MLK Jr.’s Dreams Deferred by Government Shutdown

Posted by on Jan 21, 2019 in Blog, Client Story | Comments Off on MLK Jr.’s Dreams Deferred by Government Shutdown

As the partial government shutdown drags on, its effects are being felt acutely by some of the most vulnerable Illinoisans. Land of Lincoln Legal Aid provides free civil legal services to low-income individuals in 65 counties in Illinois. Some of Land of Lincoln’s clients are federal workers who are deeply impacted by this shutdown. For example, Ramona Wilson (not her real name) and her three kids are a family who have been assisted by us in the past and who achieved financial stability as a result, but who are at risk of homelessness if the shutdown continues. You see, Ms. Wilson works at a federal agency. She started as a seasonal contract worker and didn’t earn a lot, particularly for a family of four. We helped her with a bankruptcy to prevent her limited income from being garnished by a creditor. After her bankruptcy was finished, Ms. Wilson was debt-free and hired as a full-time employee at the federal agency. As a result, she no longer qualified for our assistance.

But today, Ms. Wilson’s family’s stability is uncertain. Since she has been furloughed by the federal agency for nearly a month, she missed her January car payment and couldn’t pay her insurance. She has no money to pay her February rent. She has applied for SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) which haven’t been approved and likely won’t be at this time. She’s behind on her utilities. She’s going without trash bags and laundry detergent, to name just a few things we take for granted. She’s been told she may need to return to work at the agency without pay, but she doesn’t have the $5 a day necessary for parking and has only 131 miles left in her gas tank. She’s considering selling her plasma twice a week to pay for parking and food.

And federal workers aren’t the only ones impacted. More than 1.8 million of our friends and neighbors in Illinois receive SNAP benefits. Next week, they will receive the last round of benefits until the government shutdown ends—if it ends. Otherwise, once their benefits run out, they will go hungry, including many, many children.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. As we approach Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded that at the time of his death, Dr. King had launched his Poor People’s Campaign which was motivated by a desire for economic justice: the idea that all people should have what they need to live, specifically income and housing.

In one of his sermons, he explained, “We read one day: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists …We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that is signed years ago.”

Ms. Wilson isn’t asking for much. She wants to return to work, pay her bills, and take care of her family. Our friends and neighbors in need just want to be able to be assured that the next time they go to the grocery store with their SNAP benefits, it won’t be their last trip there for months

With the government shutdown continuing, we hope you will consider donating to food pantries and organizations that help with rent and utility assistance. Not only will Ms. Wilson, and many, many other Illinoisans appreciate it, but together we can be true to the promissory note signed years ago.

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Clarissa Gaff is the Executive Director of Land of Lincoln Legal Aid.