On June 3 the Anti-Poverty Network gathered with a group of elected leaders and low-income workers to hear the workers tell their stories of working and still struggling. Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Senator Shirley Turner, Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio, Mercer County Executive Executive Brian Hughes, and Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson all participated in the roundtable discussion, and responded with deep concern for the courageous workers who shared their stories, as well as commitment to advance policies like Earned Income Tax Credit and SNAP, that can help New Jersey's working poor.
Three amazing self-advocates shared their stories of struggle:
- Devika Smith is a certified nursing assistant in Union City, supporting her family of 6 on just $13.43 per hour. Despite devoting her life to providing care to her community's elderly and vulnerable, she often struggles to make ends meet at home. This has meant walking to work and hoping a co-worker will stop to give her a ride, because her son needed the only cash she had to get to school. Devika is a delegate of her union 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
- Robert Worrel is a security guard in Atlantic City, who had to take a $6/hour pay cut in order to get full-time work after his hours as a casino cook were drastically cut and his wife lost her job when the Revel closed. Their family of four, including their three-year old son and Robert's disabled sister, are now struggling to get by, especially since his sister's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits were cut with the end of the Heat and Eat program. Robert is part of the NJ Soul of Hunger, a joint project between the NJ Anti-Hunger Coalition and the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation.
- Sherry Rubel is a substitute teacher in Middlesex County who found herself suddenly sliding out of the middle class after her divorce. In the past year she has juggled two jobs while also fighting to advocate for her challenged adult son to get the services he needs to move out of homelessness. At the same time, her low-income left her without the money for her own housing and she lived out of her van for a year. Despite these struggles, Sherry is a tireless advocate for others experiencing homelessness and a proud member of the Anti-Poverty Network.
APN Thanks all of the participants, as well as our gracious hosts at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. This conversation was just the first step. Together we can change public attitudes about poverty and promote policies that can change lives.