I got help. Now I give back. That’s how a healthy society should work. Skip to content

I got help. Now I give back. That’s how a healthy society should work.

If lawmakers slash the social safety net any further, millions of stories like mine won't be possible.

3 min read

A first-person op-ed by Sharvonne Walker

Life is unpredictable. And sometimes, no matter how hard you work, life throws curve balls that hit you in the gut.

That’s what our tax dollars are supposed to be for — a helping hand when we’re most in need. More than once in my life, the social safety net came through for my family. And thanks to that help, we’re able to give back today.

My mother worked hard as a carpenter and educator for most of the years I was growing up. But her income just wasn’t enough to pay for rent, food, childcare, and other basic needs.

Thankfully, she kept us fed with WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition assistance program), SNAP (then called “food stamps”), and frequent visits to food pantries. And after living in a shelter for the first three years of my life, we were able to get Section 8 housing.

But life continued to throw curve balls.

My mom suffered a stroke while pregnant with my brother, who was born prematurely in 2002. She had to relearn how to walk and talk — and my brother needed serious health interventions due to complications of his premature birth. Thankfully, we got some help from Social Security and Medicare.

All of these supports enabled me to get an education, get into college, and help my family.

When my mother’s health failed to the point that she was on dialysis, my 10-year-old little brother needed to be cared for. So I moved him halfway across the country to live with me. Suddenly, I was a student, a worker, and a young single caretaker.

My mother recently passed away. But thanks to her hard work and the help we got from public programs, I was able to get a master’s degree. After experiencing the vital importance of those programs, I knew I had to devote my life to helping others access the same assistance that had been life-saving for me and my family.

I now work at an organization in Indianapolis, where I help residents achieve their family goals through basic needs support, community engagement, and case management. Ultimately, we explore the barriers keeping families from economic stability and work with them to find solutions.

My little brother, meanwhile, is 21 and a trade school graduate. He’s gainfully employed as an aircraft cleaner at the local airport and a production associate at a manufacturing company. I’m so proud of all that we’ve been able to accomplish because help was there for us when we needed it.

Yet even as I tell my story, there are lawmakers who would cut affordable housing and rental assistance programs. They would slash nutrition programs and Medicaid. There are even lawmakers and cities who seek to criminalize homelessness, which has now gotten the attention of the Supreme Court.

The deep cuts to social programs the House majority has proposed would slash investments that are already insufficient. Due to the lack of affordable housing in this country, only one in four eligible families actually receive housing vouchers like my family relied on. These cuts would make it even harder.

Thanks to the help we got, we give back as good as we received and more — that’s how a healthy system works. If we help families survive rocky times rather than fall deeper into poverty, all of us benefit as a society. If we don’t, then millions of stories like mine won’t be possible.

Imagine what our nation would look like if we fully invested in the programs most of us need at one time or another rather than constantly fighting to keep the little we have. We shouldn’t be cutting our public programs — we should be expanding them.


Sharvonne Walker is a wife, guardian, and community builder from Indianapolis who advocates for economic justice. She volunteers with the antipoverty organization RESULTS. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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