‘We know this default on America’s families is an assault on America’s families’
When Breanna Dietrich was pregnant with her youngest daughter, she was working as a manager at a pizza joint. Her pregnancy was considered high risk; she battled a number of health issues, including a heart murmur.
Her supervisors were not sympathetic – there was no paid leave or reasonable accommodations, not even the flexibility to see a doctor. “About six months into my pregnancy, I had a medical emergency and needed to go to the hospital,” said Dietrich, a mother of four who lives in Wheeling, West Virginia. “But my managers said I couldn’t go, because they needed me behind the counter. I knew in that moment I was choosing between my job and my baby’s health. I dropped my keys and walked out the door. They said I had quit. I didn’t qualify for unemployment.”
Now, nearly two years later, Dietrich still has not managed to return to the workforce. The reason? Lack of access to child care. “I got on a waitlist before my daughter was even born, but a spot has yet to open up,” she said. “Even if we were able to snag a spot, I’m not sure we could afford it. That thought keeps me up at night.”
Help for Dietrich did arrive in the form of SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid, which she called “essential lifelines.”
But now those programs are threatened by some in Congress who are insisting on deep cuts to America’s safety net in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
Dietrich, a MomsRising volunteer, was among speakers, including other caregivers and women members of the U.S. House who gathered near the steps of the Capitol this week to hold a news conference to speak out against the House GOP proposal to slash spending on safety net programs. The event was organized by the National Women’s Law Center, MomsRising, Community Change, and Zero to Three, and drew speakers from the Democratic Women’s Caucus. You can listen to the event here.
“I’ll never forget when my SNAP funds finally hit my account a few months after I lost my job,” Dietrich recalls. “I cried, it was such a huge relief. SNAP has enabled us to keep food on the table. WIC has also been so important to us. Like all moms, I just want my baby to get good nutrition through this critical stage in her development. That would be much harder without WIC.”
Similarly, without Medicaid, Dietrich says, “My family wouldn’t have health care. Full stop. Medicaid is the reason my kids can go to the doctor. It’s the reason I had access to medical care during my high-risk pregnancy and birth. I don’t know what we’d do without it. That thought shakes me to my core.”
Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, who moderated the news conference, called the proposed cuts a “gender justice issue.”
“We must avoid a catastrophic default on our nation’s debt and we must reject the House Republican proposal that would make cuts and add harsh and unfair work requirements to Medicaid, to SNAP, to TANF, to housing, to child care and other vital programs,” she said. “Specifically, the Republican proposal puts one million children in 540,000 households at risk of losing TANF. And about one million older adults would be at risk of losing SNAP. In addition, more than 10 million people in this country would be at significant risk of losing their health care coverage under the House Republican proposal.”
Speakers at the news conference accused some in Congress of being out of touch with ordinary Americans. “Before I left my office today, I heard about what the certified public accountants think about default,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI). “I know what the U.S. Chamber of Congress thinks about defaulting on our debt. I know what global markets think about defaulting. But don’t make any mistake about it: the people who will be impacted immediately will be families, women, and children, in ways that people might not necessarily anticipate.”
And many speakers faulted the majority of House members who already had left town for the holiday weekend instead of remaining behind to work to avoid the approaching crisis.
“Where are they now?” asked Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM). “They’re on airplanes. They’re not even here. There not even on these grounds, seven days away from default. It’s disgusting. We’re talking about the fundamental needs of our families and the lives of our communities. And these folks don’t even care enough to stick around and do their jobs. And what I find ironic about that is one of their major demands is work requirements. And they won’t even show up to do their damn job!”
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took note of the special meaning of the holiday weekend. “As we go into Memorial Day weekend, where we honor our men and women in uniform, those who have given their full measure and their families, instead we are threatening their earned survival benefits,” Pelosi said. “We know this default on America’s families is an assault on America’s families.”
And Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, accused the opposition of manufacturing a crisis. “What are they saying? You either inflict pain and harm on hard-working women, children, families, or we will crash the economy. We will default on our debt, and we will trigger a painful recession. That is what they have brought here.”
The proposed cuts leave Dietrich, the Wheeling, West Virginia mom of four, worried and anxious – and saying cuts to programs like SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid would be “devastating.”
“As someone who was forced out of work because of caregiving, I know the additional strict time limitation and work requirements they’re proposing will just add more red tape and cause more harm to people in tough situations,” Dietrich said. “It’s just not in touch with reality. It means children, moms, and families are without food or health care. If these lawmakers really wanted to help people stay attached to the workforce, they could invest in paid leave and affordable child care. But no, they’re actually proposing cuts to child care funding, too. How does that make any sense?”