Monday, November 7, 2011

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

When I was 10 years old, I wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan. I had just watched the movie The Day After, and I was scared that our world was going to be destroyed in a nuclear war. A few months later, I received a letter from the White House, stamped with the signature of a presidential secretary and assuring me that President Reagan was doing all he could to keep America safe and free. It didn't make me feel any better.

Twenty-eight years later I am writing to you, President Obama, because I am once again scared. I do not feel safe. And the enemy is not staring us down from the other end of an A-bomb. The enemy is right here, in our Corporate American Government.

While I know that I should not equate financial security with emotional security, there is no escaping the fact that, as a parent, I must be financially secure in order to provide for my family. It is not just about me. It is about my two children. It is about their security. I can give them all the love in the world, but what if I can't give them a roof over their heads?

I am gainfully employed, fortunately. As is my husband and my ex-husband. So we have three parents contributing to my children's security. But it's not enough.

I live in New Haven, CT, where the mill rate for the 2010 grand list is 43.9. I pay in excess of $7,000 a year in property taxes, and that doesn't include my car taxes, which amount to more than $1,200 annually for our household. My house is worth $40k less than what I paid for it just three years ago. And I haven't had more than a 25-cent raise at my corporate office manager job in the past four years, because for a while there we had a wage freeze. And then, well, we just had corporate greed. I am not paid enough to fully meet the cost of living for southern Connecticut. Despite two paychecks and a child support check, my husband and I barely squeak by every month. Our bills are paid in full and on time, however. As a result, we have precious little reserves for an emergency. Vacations and special purchases (a new appliance, or a necessary household repair) are usually not an option.

Yet I know we are fortunate that we have this much when compared to the less fortunate in our country and around the world. But this isn't all we have.

We also have foreclosure. While our house has a solid mortgage with no lates, my husband's previous home, a multifamily which he kept with the intention of renting and eventually selling at a profit some day, became an albatross. We had a situation with one tenant who did not pay his share for a while, and boom! It didn't take much to end up on the slippery slope toward foreclosure. In an effort to stave off foreclosure, my husband listed the house for sale and eventually accepted an offer that would put him in a short sale situation. But GMAC, the mortgage company, gave my husband big balls--I can use this term with you, can't I, Mr. President? I mean, we're speaking frankly here--over the short sale, and instead forced the home into foreclosure. After a year the buyers are still hanging on, waiting for the bank to finish its foreclosure proceedings.

At least we hope they're hanging on. They might not be, now that the vacant three-family house in New Haven has been broken into on more than one occasion. Stained-glass windows have been stolen, as have two refrigerators. In fact, someone even removed the "For Sale" sign from the front of the house and put up a bogus "For Rent" sign with a number to call. My husband called the number, and sure enough some guy offered to meet him at the house--his house--and to show him an apartment for rent (and presumably swindle him out of deposit money). Instead, my husband chose to meet one of New Haven's finest at the house, who told him that he had very little recourse as far as pressing charges was concerned. What's more, the cop marveled that more--radiators, piping--hadn't been stolen from the house.

The cop also muttered a lot of profanities about New Haven. I can't blame him, though. It's not like the NHPD has had good leadership in the past decade. Add to that 29 homicides this year, and you've got disillusioned people on every corner of this city, in blue or not.

So tonight, my husband will be putting new, expensive locks on the doors of the foreclosed house, in the hopes of deterring any more break-ins. After all, he is still liable for the property. But the truth is, if people want to break in, they'll break in. When he lived there years ago, his dog was stolen from the back yard and his car was stolen from the driveway. No one is living there now, so it's open season on the place.

Despite the foreclosure, we are still the lucky ones. Many people have lost homes to foreclosure, and they didn't have another home to fall back on like we do. My husband basically lost an investment property, but the damage the situation has done to his credit and our financial security is immense.

What a slap in the face to a good American. My husband worked as a bartender for 13 years, and in all of that time he claimed his earnings and filed taxes, rather than cheat the system. Last year, he was picked to serve on the jury in a notorious murder trial in New Haven. What's more, he was picked to be foreman during the penalty phase, in which the ultimate sentence was death. My husband is a good man. An honest man. A hard worker. As repayment, he gets his balls broken by the bank, and he has his credit ruined.

And yet, I  know we'll be okay. While I don't have much of a future at my current job, at least I have a job. And beyond that, I'm currently enrolled in a teacher certification program with the plan to begin teaching English (7-12) next fall--hopefully in a New Haven high school. Of course, I'll have to take a pay cut when I leave my current job to teach. Despite the fact that my current paycheck is barely enough to make ends meet, first year teachers' paychecks are even less. But I want to teach. I want to make a difference. I want to work with the youth of our city.

With all of our resources, my husband and I still find ourselves struggling. So I am scared, very scared, for the rest of my fellow Americans (and their families) who are less fortunate. And that is why I am writing to you today. What can you do to help us and millions of others who are far worse off than we are?

We are the working poor. We are the 99%, Mr. President.



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