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Jeannie Brown , Montana

Protecting Our Futures

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I understand we can all be one tragedy or health issue away from poverty and uncertainty. My story is just one of the many representing the struggles in this country. For years, I had a great job with Gallatin County in my home state of Montana that had good pay, benefits, a retirement plan, sick leave and vacation time. Then, in 2008 my granddaughter was taken into Child Protective Services partially due to domestic violence. I adopted her in 2009 and continued working while my mother cared for her.

In 2010, my mother suffered a stroke and could no longer care for my granddaughter, who requires significant medical care. I was forced to quit my very well-paying job with benefits. I could not hire a private nurse and there is no daycare facility that would take a medically fragile child. This is my second time around being a single parent. I know and appreciate hard work, sacrifice and exhaustion.

So I quit my job and cashed out my retirement savings plan, which was worth about $30,000. With that money and some savings I paid off my house and purchased a van that could accommodate a wheel chair lift. I am now a full-time, unpaid caregiver who survives on a monthly adoption subsidy of $770 ($9,245.45 per year) and food stamps. Being a caregiver has given me a greater appreciation for health care workers. This is back breaking work that does not pay well and this is one reason why I would work to raise the minimum wage.

Right now, I survive on a $24.84 per day adoption subsidy, and I know there’s worse poverty in my future. This life experience has motivated me to learn how to help myself better my situation. I started getting involved in my community and working with a local organizing group, which helped me change from feeling hopeless to feeling empowered and trying to empower others. I learned to tell my story in a way that has incredible power. As I educated myself, I began to see that our country is in dire straits because people aren’t fighting back.

My work has also given me a new appreciation for what a lot of people have to struggle through. I want to protect my future and help others learn to protect theirs.