By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Public Affairs
Every morning when I walk through the doors of the Administration for Children and Families, I feel grateful to work in an agency that helped my family many years ago. Working in public affairs, I’ve gotten a good look at our nation’s compassionate side by writing about the many programs created to lift indviduals and families out of poverty. I've enjoyed reading success stories about our programs’ clients. It brings back memories of my family.
My journey to D.C. was based on some sound decisions by my father, mother and me, which included good parenting, graduating from college, succeeding in the workplace, and staying out of trouble.
But all that may not have been possible if it weren’t for one of the programs administered through this agency – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Back in 1980, it was known as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children, commonly known as welfare.
My mother, father, sister and I lived in the small border town of Brownsville, Texas. My dad worked as a diesel mechanic and my mother worked as a typesetter in a printing shop. Both worked full-time jobs. After clocking out at 5 p.m., they would pick up my sister and me from school to go clean office buildings in the evenings. I was in charge of emptying out ashtrays, coffee pots and trash cans.
While my friends were enjoying afterschool television, this eight year old was busy helping the family earn enough to pay off our new home. I had my very own room for the first time in my life. We were a family working to achieve the American Dream.
But then one day I wasn’t picked up from school to go to work.
My mother developed flu-like symptoms at her regular job and couldn’t move her feet. She was rushed to the hospital with a high fever. My mother had contracted a rare disorder, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which began paralyzing her. Within 24 hours, she went from being a working mom who got up at 5 a.m. to make breakfast to a vegetable clinging to life on a hospital bed.
Luckily a doctor was able to diagnose her rapidly moving sickness and administered life-saving medication. But the damage had been done.
After nearly two months, my mother finally left the hospital paralyzed from the neck down. My family’s dream of working our way up to middle class was in jeopardy. My mom had switched jobs just days before her illness, so her years of investment in health insurance sadly weren’t there to help us pay mounting bills.
Those initial weeks tested my family. My dad quit his full-time job to take care of my mother, who would be sent to an institution if there wasn’t an adult caring for her around the clock. We divided duties. My sister took care of mom on the weekends and every evening. My elementary principal allowed me to stay home from school on Mondays and Fridays to feed and clean my mother while my dad worked odd jobs to bring home some income.
Finally, one thing that helped keep our heads above water were the life-saving dollars from welfare. For six months, the assistance provided for our utilities and food before other resources kicked in.
Our family didn’t go hungry. Our family didn’t become homeless. Our family survived.
My mother’s long work history of paying into a social safety net was there for her in her time of need. This program worked as its creators intended. But simply, this program allowed an eight year old to have a brighter tomorrow by taking care of his needs that day.
Eventually, my mother recovered but still remains disabled. That didn't stop her from going to work. In the last 30 years, she worked as a secretary at two companies. She paid off her home and helped put me through college.
I have many ways to say thank you, and my public service to this nation is one. I enjoy working at an agency that gives so much hope to many.