Today is my blog’s eighth birthday. I’m amazed that something I started in a fit of pique has lasted so long and become so valued part of my life.
People sometimes ask me how the blog began. So first about that fit of pique.
My late husband and I had a joke about one of our temperamental differences—or rather, a way I’d joke about myself. I’d say, “Jesse, you know I’m the soul of patience, but …”
If I hadn’t become impatient, I wouldn’t have started this blog — or at least, not when and with so relatively little forethought. The leader of a local (now defunct) virtual community agreed to publish posts I’d written to gain more grassroots support for policy decisions an organization I volunteered for was advocating.
But the person who administered the blog took her own sweet time to publish them — no matter how time sensitive. So one day, when another deadline had passed, I said to myself, “Well [expletive deleted], I’ll start my own blog.”
I knew from the get-go that the blog had to do more than replicate action alerts. And I wanted it to do more anyway. I didn’t know quite what, but as title suggests, I carved out broad swathe of territory.
Like many children, the blog has had growing pains, as long-time followers may have noticed. My posts were originally short and easy to write because I generally borrowed from a single source to gin up support for (or against) a single issue.
Over time, I’ve tried to provide more information because that’s what I myself want when I read a post, news article or column about a policy issue. I’ve tried to include links to original sources—again, because that’s what I want.
And I’ve tried, when possible, to show the nexus between developments at the federal level and my local level, the District of Columbia. The challenge in part is that developments at either level link to others — and they to others.
How do I — or anyone for that matter — who chooses to look at poverty in America through a policy lens resist simplistic (if heartfelt) rhetoric or deep dives into the weeds that obscure the main issue? Still haven’t come up with an answer that snaps into place whenever I start drafting.
Well, so much for the strictly me. Here, very briefly, is what I see when I look back to my first posts — and forward to likely fodder in the upcoming year.
The Great Recession had just set in when I started blogging. The District, like all states, faced a pressing problem because tax revenues were dropping and needs for safety net services rising. And like all states, but one, it had to keep its budget balanced every year.
So the District decided, among other things, to eliminate a small pending increase in cash benefits for families in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. That occasioned my very first post.
The District only recently put a multi-year increase in place. So full benefits are now somewhat higher than they would have been, if the DC Council had done nothing further.
But, in the meantime, the Council, with the former mayor’s hearty approval, set a rigid 60 month lifetime limit on TANF eligibility. So what’s better for some very poor District families is offset by what’s worse for thousands of others.
Another early post flagged the likely impact of the Great Recession on the national poverty rate and summarized a handful of remedies the federal government could put in place.
We all assumed — rightly — that Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress would swiftly agree on a legislative package to jump start the economy and expand the federally-funded safety net — in itself, an economy booster.
So we had hope and reasons to believe we’d soon see positive changes. And we did — not only in temporary stimulus measures, but in new and improved programs we thought we could count on for the long-term and rules for existing programs that would benefit lower-income people.
Well, the Great Recession is behind us, though we still have more poor people than we did before it began—largely because we’ve got more people living in the U.S now. We’d have about 38.1 million more in poverty were it not for Social Security and our major safety net programs.
District policymakers apparently will do something to extend TANF benefits for at least some families headed by parents who can’t conceivably earn enough to pay for basic needs — and perhaps for all children who’d otherwise be plunged into dire poverty.
They’re intent on making more housing affordable for the lowest-income residents. They’re making progress toward providing homeless families with smaller, more habitable shelters—and enabling more to remain safely housed.
They’re providing shelter year round for those who can’t, rather than leaving them to fend for themselves unless they have a legal right to shelter because they might otherwise freeze to death.
Not saying all is well, but we have sound reasons for hope insofar as our local officials have the freedom and resources to effect progressive change.
What then to say about prospects for low-income people nationwide? We’ve got a host of predictions — some reflecting proposals likely to become blueprints for legislation, others based on pronouncements and past actions by Trump’s top-level nominees.
I can’t help feeling that we’ll watch the safety net unravel, while knowing it needs strengthening. Can’t help feeling we’ll see other programs that also serve basic human needs undermined — or altogether eliminated.
Neither the District nor any state or other local government can compensate for the multi-pronged attack we’ve good reason to expect — even for just the prospective federal funding losses.
I tell myself to absorb the spirit of the many organizations that have already proved they’re ready to keep fighting on behalf of the disadvantaged people in our country. They’re working together, as they often do, to educate us with less expertise and to help us join the fight in effective ways.
But right now, I’m profoundly disheartened. Yet I know that silence implies consent. So I’ll blog on in hopes of a cheerier future blog birthday.