A Challenge to Hold Space for those in Uncertain Spaces
Disagreements between President Trump and Democrats in Congress over funding for his proposed US southern border wall has led to the longest government shutdown in history while communities in the US and abroad brace themselves for the unknown. With the shutdown in its 28th day, many working Americans are dipping into savings and selling their possessions to pay past due bills. Some report having to utilize food pantries to fill gaps while others have resorted to rationing life-saving medications. Michigan residents who receive food benefits have already received their February load along with instructions to plan accordingly as there will be no disbursement for the month of February. Clearly, the inability of our elected officials to reach a resolution is significantly impacting the nation, and puts already marginalized members of our communities – particularly women and children – further in peril.
This weekend women across the world will gather to stand in solidarity around a spectrum of social and political issues. It will be a time to rejoice and to celebrate; as well as an opportunity to strategize around how to best leverage the potential for change we collectively anticipate given the experiences of incoming legislators. Hands down, women showed up and OUT last year – both as candidates and in support of them. Yet, there are still women in our communities who fly under the political radar. Because of this we must be vigilant of the fact that no one is in a more vulnerable position than our neighbors who depend on Safety Net funding and programs to take care of their families.
According to the 2017 US Census’ American Community Survey, approximately 20% of Michigan households with children under five live below the poverty line. Black people experience almost two and half times the poverty rate of white people, and 49.5% of single mothers with children under 5 live in poverty. A jaw-dropping 47% of those children are black.  These delicate populations depend on the Safety Net for basic support and economic stability. “The Social Safety Net of the United States is made up of various welfare programs to protect low-income Americans from poverty and hardship. The programs are meant to be a safety net to catch Americans if they fall on hard times. The goal is to get Americans of sound body and mind back on their feet. For those individuals without sound body and mind the goal is to protect them with a minimum standard of living.” 
If you are not familiar with the Safety Net, you may recognize the names of some of the programs that fall under its umbrella: Medicaid and Medicare, social security and SSI, food stamps, school lunches, and housing vouchers among others. Funding for the nutrition portion of the Safety Net (SNAP, WIC, senior meals) stems from the Farm Bill, while funding for others, Section 8 and Medicaid for example, come from HUD and federal medical assistance programs, respectively. Safety Net funding also serves as a temporary economic foundation for working Michigan residents who fall on hard times. Most economic analyses conclude that employees making minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment, and homeownership is becoming further out of reach for those who desire it. As the cost of living continues to rise, Safety Net programs provide low-income workers and marginalized individuals a basic economic foundation to support themselves and provide for their families.
What’s most amazing about Safety Net programs is that they provide a pathway out of poverty for countless individuals via childcare assistance, housing vouchers, Pell Grants, and the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC). Many first-generation college students come from families that depended on Safety Net support at one point in time. But despite providing so much value to so many, Safety Net-related funding is always among the first line of items on the chopping block during budget processes. This means that with each budget review, the socioeconomic foundations of millions of Americans and American families are in jeopardy of being snatched from underneath them. This past year, we saw advocacy around Safety Net policy in many Michigan communities in the form of protests outside of Senator Stabenow’s office around preserving SNAP benefits and outcry over attempts to gut Safety Net programs in the Farm Bill.
Still yet, there is hope. We now find ourselves in a moment in history when both our nation and our state are being led by an unprecedented number of women. 2018 was a record-breaking year for women across the country – both as candidates and in Midterm victories, and several of those elected have since managed to secure prestigious assignments to the Financial Services and appropriations committees. We can only hope that as women take their places around the various legislative tables, that they hold space for their identities as women, mothers, and heads of household, and allow them to inform their work, and ultimately, their votes. When we gather with our sisters this weekend, let’s hold space for Michigan’s most vulnerable women as well as the women who are in a position to cultivate empathy within our system of government – when it’s back up and running, that is.