When the pandemic first started, my main concern as a person with disabilities was protecting my physical health. But now, a year-and-a-half later, my financial health has become just as much of a worry.
All the national attention is focused on Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, but, as someone who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past, the question I have is, where are our Republican representatives of Congress right here in North Carolina?
I'm counting on Congress to pass the budget bill to help me and my neighbors get back on track and I’m increasingly getting angry that they are not standing up for everyday North Carolinians. It seems like Republicans are playing politics rather than doing what they need to do to help ordinary Americans like me who are still struggling to recover financially from the pandemic.
I’m the kind of person who has always persevered, and I consider myself to have a rich life with friends and community on my own terms.
In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with liver disease, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, which keeps me from my life dream of running a rural homestead, but I don’t let this define me. One of my biggest points of pride is that I’ve turned my home into an urban homestead, growing everything from figs to okra and raising chickens and ducks in town.
Growing my own food helps me financially, but I still need to go extra lengths just to make ends meet. I walk dogs and clean houses and help my neighbors by waiting for the cable guy to show up while they’re at work to add extra income to my social security disability payments of $834 per month, but even that isn’t even enough to afford the rest of the groceries I need without food stamps.
With my multiple conditions, there’s no telling how COVID would affect me, so I take every precaution to avoid infection even now that I’m vaccinated. Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine I can take to protect my financial health. Over the last year and a half, I’ve seen my standard of living slide lower and lower.
At the beginning of the pandemic I had to make extremely hard choices. My gig work posed a danger to my health, and as businesses shut down, many more people were at home doing the things they used to hire me to do. I went an entire year without any extra work. I sold every possession I could. I found charitable organizations that helped pay for my utilities. I got rid of my car. I went into debt.
The stimulus checks were just enough to get me through. But they were like putting a band-aid over a deep wound.
The budget bill being debated in Congress now would create some breathing room for folks like me who are right on the edge of poverty by lowering costs and creating more jobs. Cheaper, more dependable utilities, affordable health care, and expanded job training would be a game-changer for those of us who are struggling to pay bills. For me personally, when my neighbors have extra money in their pockets, they’re able to hire me to do the gig work I was doing pre-pandemic that helps me make ends meet.
I’m working really hard just to barely get by, meanwhile the wealthiest people in this country are just getting richer and richer during the pandemic without contributing their fair share. Ordinary working people are going through multiple crises right now, and Congress has a chance to address our issues through policies that are long overdue like providing free community college, expanding access to affordable childcare, and lowering prescription drug prices.
I am not tied to one party or the other. I just want an ethical government. I support action and policies that will help working people like me. Congress has a chance to transform life for everyday Americans, and I’m calling on my senators and representatives in North Carolina and across the country to step up and pass the budget legislation to create good jobs that support working-class people and families like me and my neighbors.
It’s time for our elected leaders to pay attention to what people really need to get working and living again. People want to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. We just need the opportunity to recover from the pandemic and build more sustainable, healthier lives.
Victoria Bachlotte lives in Charlotte and is a member of the nonprofit advocacy group WorkMoney.