I’m not a fan of the controversial Jason Aldean song “Try That in a Small Town,” which glorifies vigilante violence.
Unlike Aldean in his Nashville mansion, my three children and I actually live in a small town in impoverished Hopkins County, Kentucky. I sleep in our only bedroom with my toddler, while my daughter sleeps on the couch and her brother sleeps on an air mattress in the living room.
The guns Aldean sings about are no comfort when my two-year-old needs child care and nutritious meals for her developing brain, when my teens want some privacy in our tiny apartment, or when I need to get to work without a car in a town with no public transit.
Towns like mine don’t need more fear, anger, or violence. We need public investment that helps hard working people get by.
I have two associate degrees and am just 12 credit hours shy of a bachelor’s degree. I work six days a week. But with pay so low, rents so high, and elevated food costs, I can’t make ends meet for my family in the ways they deserve.
We don’t have sufficient child care where I live. I’m lucky that my two-year-old’s grandparents are able to watch her while I’m at work, but I have to work nights because that’s when they’re available. Without transportation, I walk home alone at night — three nights at 10 p.m. and three nights at 3 a.m.
Not long ago, we got a taste of what real investment could look like.
In 2021, even though the nation was still dealing with the pandemic and I’d lost my job as lead stylist at a salon, my family and I got some critical relief from the expanded federal Unemployment Insurance program, which held me over until I got another job.
We got a big boost from the expanded Child Tax Credit, which provided money each month to meet my family’s needs and gave me more time to devote to parenting. We benefited from extra food assistance through SNAP and extra help from the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
Suddenly, I could buy my kids new school clothes and supplies. I could pay the rent and utilities on time. My kids had less stress. I had less stress. The difference is hard to put into words. I even joined SaverLife, a national nonprofit and advocacy organization that uses technology to help other struggling people.
Because of policies that invested in families, small businesses, and essential workers, the nation’s poverty rate and child poverty rate dramatically declined. We began to thrive — some of us for the first time in our lives.
But when all congressional Republicans, plus two conservative Senate Democrats, refused to extend these effective investments, all those gains were quickly reversed. After reaching a record low, our country’s Supplemental Poverty Measure increased by a record amount last year.
And now, a handful of extremist lawmakers not only want to make sure those effective pandemic investments in families never return, but they also want to slash all programs that help ordinary people. These extreme demands nearly led to a government shutdown and may well lead to one in the future — an outcome that would be disastrous for hard working small town families.
The expansion of the Child Tax Credit was the most effective anti-poverty program in a long time. By putting aside partisan differences, Congress and the White House could build better financial outcomes for millions of families.
Folks here are generous, but I can’t rely on other hard-pressed families to keep a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. Instead, I need my tax dollars to invest in the well-being of my family.
What if families had the support they need to make a better life for themselves? Let’s try that in a small town — and everywhere else.