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Mired in Poverty: We Let Moms Die


Families Stick Together in Homelessness
Happy Mother’s Day.

Flowers, candy, breakfast in bed, and beautiful kid-drawn cards. But if any of those mothers happens to be low income with a serious health issue, they might be celebrating their last Mother’s Day with their families.

“Stacy,” of my widely circulated March 11 Hard Times story, recently shared gruesome news with me. She’s been diagnosed with cervical cancer and needs surgery, an $8,000 procedure. Trouble is, New Mexico is one of those budget-conscious states that thinks they can balance their budget on the cervixes of mothers who scramble stalwartly to keep their kids alive and out of child protection custody.

Stacy and her mother-dependent young children are mired in that category despite her exemplary parenting skills. Single adults and parents with “too much” income are ineligible for medical care.

Motherhood and apple pie don’t hold any importance in NM, and too many other states, if the mothers are poor. The Nation’s Greg Kauffman observes, “With so many employed single mothers earning poverty wages, the lack of income support programs and health care in the US completes what is seemingly a perfect storm of financial insecurity.” When you look at full-time mothers like Stacy, who cares for her 7 children with aplomb but limited income, meager child support and minimal welfare, the storm intensifies.

My web research for leads or answers for Stacy got bogged down in Obamacare dysfunction. Maybe the Affordable Care Act will be fine and dandy, but finding info on what states offer for people in poverty is less than satisfying. “Health care, coming soon!” boasts the New Mexico government website. Yeah, soon, just what you want to hear when you have a medical crisis today.

State governments, rebelling over the fed’s intrusion into their statewide healthcare fiefdoms, are working hard to thwart the inevitable, a semblance of affordable health care availability to those who fall outside the Medicaid boundaries. Caught in this power struggle: millions of parents and adults whose lives evidently mean nothing.

Infuriating me further were the websites that lure the desperate seeker in by their promises. If you’re not overwhelmed by crisis and you have a modicum of ability to ferret out truth from sales pitches, you get spoon-fed pabulum that a sixth grader could have compiled with a tad more honesty. “The only problem is that healthcare insurance plans are not always the most affordable and are actually often overly priced and expensive. Because of this, you may not have insurance for you and your children but there are options. You can apply for Medicaid in the state of New Mexico which would ultimately help you to get health insurance for your children and yourself.” Bull feathers.

Do the math: $8,000 “retail” for the procedure by the doctor who’s not telling my friend about the possibility of getting Medicaid assistance. She’ll check with Planned Parenthood and the NM Human Service Department that boasts “Serving 1 in 3.” What does that mean? I’m not going to even guess. Worst case, Stacy gets no treatment and dies. I’m sorry, but that’s what happens when cancer runs rampant.

Then the state has 7 children to place in foster care. What cost to the state? What cost to her children?

The U.S. ranks so embarrassingly low when it comes to health care for women in poverty that our national knuckles drag. Kaufmann points out that “Prior to welfare reform in 1996, for every 100 families with children living in poverty, sixty-eight received cash assistance; but by 2010 that ratio dropped to just twenty families. States have discretion to determine eligibility and time limits, so there are virtually fifty different systems. In a majority of states, the benefit levels have fallen below 30 percent of the official poverty line—so less than $6,000 for a family of three.”

OK, upside. Let’s see. Well, Stacy has a support network of sorts, a mother and friends who will take care of her kids while she recovers from surgery, if she gets it. And they have a humble home. That’s better than homeless families who struggle to cope with a medical emergency that knocks the parent down for the count. Although some places are starting to put together a plan to keep the kids out of foster care, you can bet the “perfect storm” that Kaufmann refers to brews in the stormy seas of homeless and impoverished Motherly Love.