On Tuesday, with budget gridlock threatening to bring deeper cuts to safety net programs just in time for the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, attendees at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event on anti-poverty programs got to meet Chelsey Hagy, a nurse from southwestern Virginia who says her current economic security would likely have been impossible without a spate of public assistance programs that were there for her when she needed them.
Hagy was working two part-time jobs and living in public housing when her first son was born. “With the assistance I received from food stamps, WIC, and TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families], I was able to feed my son and purchase diapers, formula, and clothes each month,” she told attendees at an event marking the release of the Half In Ten report. Then, eight months into the boy’s life, he was diagnosed with a genetic syndrome called Fragile X that required extensive and costly medical care. The physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy the child needs to deal with the development disorder would have been impossible for Hagy to afford were it not for Medicaid. “Had I not had that resource, he would not have gotten the required amount of therapy he needed, which would have put him further and further behind,” she told ThinkProgress in an interview. Today, her eldest son is in a special ed kindergarten class with a teacher he loves.
A couple years after her special needs son was born, he got a little brother. By then Hagy was enrolled in nursing school, which she completed despite her husband leaving her with the children. The kids attended Head Start while Chelsey went to school, and when her financial aid ran out she found out she could get tuition assistance through a publicly funded Workforce Development Program through People, Incorporated. The program “helped me by providing the cost of my tuition, books, uniforms, shoes, lab coat, stethoscope, state board exam fees” and the like, Hagy said. She graduated Virginia Highlands Community College in May and became a state licensed nurse in June.
“Today, I am proud to say that I hold a Cardiac Nurse position with Advance Cardiac Life Support Licensure at Mountain States Health Alliance in Abingdon,” Hagy said. “My children and I are doing great; we are no longer receiving any government assistance. I am now remarried and recently purchased my first home. I cannot imagine where my life would be now, if it were not for the support and the opportunities that were given to me.”
Hagy is far from alone, as a report released Tuesday by CAP’s Half In Ten anti-poverty project notes. The programs that made Hagy’s story possible save millions from abject poverty each year.