MCA’s “new” Executive Director, Claire Berkowitz, introduced herself to attendees at the annual Legislative Reception on January 28, 2014 in Augusta. Her remarks are below.
I may be a new face to many of you, but I have spent the last 5 years as MCA’s KIDS COUNT Director. Most of that time was spent behind the scenes, quietly getting to know the children of Maine through numbers.
Because many of you don’t know me very well, I feel I need to share a little about myself. While I don’t like to announce this in a roomful of New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox fans, I must admit early on, for full transparency and disclosure, that my blood runs forever Black and Gold…not for the Bruins, mind you.
I grew up in Pittsburgh and have been rooting for the Steelers and the Pirates forever. I could never give up my allegiance to those teams, just as I’m sure none of you could give up your love of the Patriots if you relocated to say….Denver.
I grew up in Pittsburgh during the 1970s and 1980s, when the steel industry was imploding. While I know that smart public & private investment saved Pittsburgh from experiencing the same fate as so many other rust belt cities, I believe that the 1979 Steelers and Pirates saved the collective soul of the city’s citizens during a very dark period. Layoffs were a daily announcement on the news. Families were struggling. As children living through that time, we looked at Mean Joe Green in that famous Super Bowl commercial and it truly felt like he was tossing that jersey to all of us.
And so I ask myself, who is tossing that protective jersey to the children of Maine? Who are their heroes seeing them through their dark times? For these are dark times for far too many of our children, I can assure you.
For 116,000 of our 275,000 children living in low income homes, struggling to make ends meet…1 in 4 Maine kids under age 5 living in poverty … times are incredibly difficult.
“Many of these children live in loving, single-parent homes, often headed by their mother. These women are hard workers, but the hurdles to make ends meet often leave them teetering on the edge between stability and crisis, unable to find a path that will permanently lift them — and their children — out of low-wage jobs. Once you get past the rhetoric and ideology-inspired attacks on Maine’s working poor, this is what poverty looks like in our state. It is most often women doing their best to provide for their children, while working in minimum wage jobs.”
And so I guess that’s the answer to my question …moms are the heroes in our state and we must do more to support women performing the most important work of our nation, raising our children.
Let me ask you a question…how many children lost their TANF benefits between Dec. 2011 and Dec. 2013? In December 2011, 23,922 children in Maine were receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits…in December 2013, that number was 12,297, a decrease of 11,625 children in just two years. The decrease is due to a strict adherence to rules and sanctions rather than a decrease in economic need. Children are being punished for the perceived sins of their parents, whose only real sin is being poor with no way out of an impossible situation. You can’t use bootstraps when you can’t afford to buy boots.
I love stories and the way they provide a narrative to the reader. But, we can’t create fair and just public policies from one person’s experience or anecdote. Based on my opinion that professional sports saved Pittsburgh, one might think that I would want you to go out and use public funds to attract an NFL franchise to Maine. (Although that would be fun, right!) No, I told you that story to give insight into who I am and how I believe positive, collective experience can impact a struggling community and provide hope.
No, what our children really need is access to quality child care, more slots in Head Start programs, more public preschool classrooms, access to adequate oral health care, equitably funded public schools, a higher minimum wage for their parents.
The KIDS COUNT data project provides us with information about the needs of our children. Let’s use the information to create smart policies that will support families and children in our state.
It’s not rocket science…it’s more difficult and more important. Thank you.