My name is Agnes, and I was born 87 years ago, in an area known as Jamaica Plains, N.Y. I was raised in a shack with an outhouse in the backyard. My “home” was the only shack in the neighborhood and we were the poorest family around. My mother ran off when I was five, and my older brothers raised me because my father was a drunk. At fourteen I got a job working full-time at the local Five and Dime, so I quit school to make money. At 17 I got pregnant and married Charles. I had always wanted to work as a secretary and live in NYC, but that was one dream that didn’t come true. Once I had the baby I became a stay-at-home mother, and soon we had four children.
Charles worked hard, but he was only a “helper” for a carpet-installer and the money wasn’t there. So, he went out and started his own business. We ended up living all over the Midwest, and life was pretty good. Once the children were in school, I took a typing course so that I could become a Secretary, just like I’d planned. However, somewhere in there Charles’ started gambling his pay away, and then he took up drinking, too. I never knew if and when he would come home, or what kind of a mood he’d be in when he did come home. Thankfully, no matter where we lived, I managed to get a Secretarial job.
Our children moved out and began their own lives, so we moved to New England to be closer to Charles’ family. This was a mistake, since they were all big drinkers, too. I kept working, but my pay as a secretary never really went up, and Charles’ pay never went up, either. Eventually we retired and collected Social Security, but that was all we got since none of the jobs either one of us had ever provided a pension plan.
Charles died from his many illnesses, and I had to move out of our two-bedroom apartment into a smaller one-bedroom. I had to part with most of my furniture that I’d been able to keep over the years because it didn’t fit into a smaller apartment. They also only gave me one week to leave my apartment due to “regulations”, so I had to plan a funeral and pack to move at the same time. This is because I am on housing assistance (funded by the federal government) because my Social Security payments fall below the federal poverty level.
It makes me sad when I see people in our government who want to take these programs away from people like me. I not only get help with my rent, but I’m on heat assistance, I use food stamps and I get Meals on Wheels. If I can’t have any Meals on Wheels, I don’t know what I’ll have to eat because I only get $75.00 a month on Food Stamps. After I pay my rent which is a set price, my heating bill – which is also set at $75.00 per month, so I can’t pay less because if I do, they’ll take away my assistance, I don’t know how I will eat on what I have left-over plus the &75.00 food stamps. Usually at the end of the month all I have left over is enough to pay for my telephone and my very limited cable service.
My family doesn’t usually help me out since they all have children and payments of their own. I’m very worried about this new budget that’s been proposed. Charles and I worked all our lives, but now I’m being made to feel like I am a drain on society. I would like to try to enjoy my remaining years, but mostly I sit at home by myself with my heat turned down as low as I can tolerate it and watch Turner Movie Classics.
*Just a note, I paraphrased some of this story, and changed the names of the people, but it’s pretty accurate. Most of the seniors that I work with have small lives that consist of going grocery shopping and watching movies on t.v. They don’t have money left-over at the end of the month. Also, they get government assistance for the following: heat, housing, food stamps, and the notorious “help I’ve fallen and can’t get up” button. For the seniors who qualify, they also get either a homemaker or companion for a few hours a week so that they can stay in their apartments, as that is a cheaper solution than sending them all to nursing homes. Most of them see their families very infrequently, in fact, their closest relationship is usually with their homemaker. It’s very sad to see people who have worked hard all their lives reduced to such circumstances. These are the people who will be hurt by these deep cuts to social welfare programs.