Working Americans Respond to Bush's Last SOTU

Last night, six members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) from the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area joined the union's Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger to watch President Bush's final State of the Union address. In a wide-ranging discussion about the impact of the past seven years, the effects of the economy's slide toward recession, and their hopes for a future leader, the SEIU members put a human face on some of the economic challenges the president glossed over in his speech. As oil and gas prices rise, wages stagnate, and the country hunkers down for a possible recession, America's working families have concerns that need to be addressed. The following are excerpts from the discussion:

On wages

"At the end of last year, I did the math and I realized that my total income for the year-after the expenses I cover for my child care center-was the same as what I was making 40 years ago, when I was in high school. I have two children and they both help support me. If my children weren't depositing money into my bank account, I wouldn't be able to keep my center open. The president didn't say anything tonight to make me think that this is going to change."

~Gloria Knight is a family child care provider in SEIU Local
500 Kids First Maryland. She cares for up to 8 children
ages 2-12 at any given time.

"I work two jobs and live paycheck to paycheck. When you look at your child's face and they say they're hungry and the only thing you can feed them is hot dogs and pork and beans, it hurts. You have to live below the poverty line to put your kids in daycare. Politicians don't see that."

~Raquel Mack, a member of SEIU local 32BJ, is a full-time security guard in Washington, D.C. She also works part-time in retail and plans to re-enroll at the University of District of Columbia this fall.

"Yes, they raised the minimum wage, but we still don't have a salary high enough to pay our bills. We've got higher gas prices, higher fuel bills. The American people are being fleeced."

~ Kevin Hills is a janitor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a member of SEIU local 32BJ.

On raising a family

"They should see what it's like to get up everyday at 6 a.m., come home at midnight and not spend time with your child. My son literally waits up to see me every night when I get home."

~Raquel Mack

"My whole life is about children. I raised two of my own, and now I care for my four grandchildren. Last night the president didn't even really mention kids. He talked about making healthcare more 'affordable'-whatever that means-for everyone. But he didn't talk about the SCHIP bill he vetoed last year. He didn't talk about healthcare for kids at all. I just don't think it interests him."

~Annette Scurry is a family child care provider and a member of SEIU Local 500 Kids First Maryland. She cares for up to 8 children daily ages six weeks to 12 years.

On healthcare

"He said he wants to make healthcare 'affordable' for all Americans. But what does that mean? I need a system where what's deemed 'affordable' is based on what I personally make. Because what's an affordable share for another worker-even for another child care worker who brings in a steady $2,000 a month-is not affordable for me when I make $4- or $5- or $600 a month."

~Gloria Knight

On gas prices

"He didn't talk about the gas prices. I need the gas to keep my child care center warm enough for the kids, and if it's not warm enough, they'll come in and shut down my facility. But I don't get extra money to pay for the more expensive gas. Already it takes my income and my husband's both to heat the house. I don't know what I'll do if the prices keep going up.

"There are poor families in this country that can't afford the energy prices, and so they're using candles at home. There are kids who have died in fires that started because they were trying to do their homework by candlelight. And last night, the president didn't talk about the gas prices."

~Annette Scurry

On education

"No Child Left Behind? Bush talked about the D.C. opportunity scholarships and increasing Pell Grant funds. But Pell grants don't cover entire tuitions - only a percentage. People can't afford that. He said nothing about college tuitions either. I want my child to get the best education he can get. This year, D.C. schools scored amongst the lowest in the nation. We're in the nation's capital - we should be scoring highest!

"We need to prepare the next generation. We have to rebuild school systems, show children positive things, keep them involved so they don't feel left out, so they understand how to make changes in their future. The Bush administration cut out funds for extracurricular activities. Kid used to have things to do and places to go, but now it's terrible and paying for anything is tough. Kids don't have anything to get involved in but hanging out on the street corner."

~Raquel Mack

On the 2008 election

"This is vital to us. WE need to get this message out there-SEIU local 32BJ, 1199, 1877, 500, and beyond. If not, we're going to hear the same person in office, saying the same thing eight years from now. If you're not in it, you're not going to win it."

~ Kevin Hills

"I usually work the polls, and I bring my kids and their lunches with me, and I sit them on the ledge, have them passing out flyers. It gets them interested. And the people love it. I'm looking forward to doing all we can this year for the presidential election."

~Gloria Knight

"The families that bring their kids to me tell me about their hard times, and I tell them, you HAVE to vote. They say, 'my vote doesn't count.' And I say, 'YES it does. If you want things to change, you have to vote.' I think the young people especially are getting fired up to vote this year."

~Annette Scurry

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