[July 29, 2020] My name is Patricia Rivera. I am a mother of 5 children. While I was raising my children, I was experiencing abuse from their father. During these childrearing years, human services assistance helped me to get on my feet. Had it not been for the aid that I sought, I may not still be alive.
Although I was in charge of the finances, my children’s father still managed to take more than he gave. Nevertheless, I was pretty successful at keeping up with the bills on my own. But without the support of Section 8 and heating assistance, I would likely have become homeless or been obliged to go to a shelter. The services that I received also allowed me the ability to continue my education on my path of becoming self-sufficient.
Cash assistance (similar to RI Works) was piloted in NYC, where I lived back when my children were little. It was called Work Experience Program (WEP). Persons receiving cash assistance were required to complete a set of hours doing some type of community service. I chose to participate in several different positions to enhance my work experience skills, including helping in the day care where my children attended. After learning that I was experiencing abuse at home, the program staff helped to shelter me from harm by letting my abuser know that he needed to get help or face consequences. Because the staff chose to be active bystanders, he opted to seek help. He began to see a drug counselor and mental health expert in addition to taking anger management classes while the social workers helped me and the children.
All of this happened in NYC. The program staff understood the importance of a multi-layered approach to dismantling abuse and poverty. Their intervention helped to protect me from further physical abuse, to keep a roof over our heads, bills paid and food on the table. The caregivers watched the kids while the coordinators brought in outside trainers who taught us various useful life skills and trades to increase our self-sufficiency. They gave us resources and taught us how to seek and ask for help.
As a result of the comprehensive support from this program, I am a success story. I am currently a graduate from the University of Rhode Island, with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. I achieved high honors and the proud recipient of the Janice A. Paff Outstanding Female Student of the Year award. I now hold a managerial position that allows me to assist women and their children get back on their feet via trainings, education, work search and readiness programs and supportive services.
Throughout my journey to get where I am today, it was not easy to make ends meet. Here in Rhode Island, the RI Works cash assistance program can be a safety net for survivors and their children who are rebuilding their lives after experiencing abuse – however, the allotment of cash assistance per family has not increased in nearly three decades while the cost of living, especially rent prices, has seen incredible increases. It is imperative that leaders in this state understand the importance of addressing the related issues of abuse and poverty when making decisions. A major barrier for survivors in our state continues to be financial stability along with the lack of safe, affordable housing options. When domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness, and evictions listed on your credit report disqualify you from the few living spaces available, it is next to impossible for a survivor to break the cycle of abuse and poverty without community support and state assistance, no matter how hard they work as an individual.
It is way beyond the time to increase the RI Works cash assistance benefit to reflect these rises in cost of living. Please, do the right thing and give a hand up to so many who are struggling to break free from the cycle of abuse and have hope for a brighter future.
- Patricia, SOAR member
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