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Testimony of Sandra Killett before the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services

October 26, 2022

I want to thank the Committee on Social Services and Chair Rosenthal for holding this hearing on Public Assistance.

My name is Sandra Killett. I am a mother, a former non-profit Executive Director, a community activist, and a proud member-leader with Community Voices Heard for the last 17 years. My message to you today is that public assistance is absolutely necessary for the stability of families and communities.

I am a former recipient of public assistance. I know all too well the challenges of trying to make ends meet while receiving benefits. The cost of living is much higher than what is provided by public assistance. The amount people receive hasn’t gone up in the years since I received public assistance, and it was a struggle then. You can’t raise healthy children without enough money to cover their basic needs. Yet, that is what too many families are expected to do because the public assistance grant is so low.

Basic living expenses increase in cost every year. The past two years have seen the cost for things needed to survive skyrocket. Yet, public assistance amounts remain the same. In 2021, rents increased for 43 percent of tenants who were living below the federal poverty line.

Public assistance is a way to stabilize people. It prevents people from losing their housing and becoming homeless. It helps adults and children go to school and create new opportunities for themselves. It supports all of the people who have disabilities. Finally, it keeps people from suffering the deepest forms of hunger.

The low amounts of public assistance are due in part to racist and sexist narratives about Black mothers. Racial discrimination in employment, housing, education, and social programs has contributed to higher rates of poverty and insecurity among Black families and other families of color. Since the founding of our nation, Black women have been among the most excluded and exploited by the rules that structure our society. The state legislature cannot let this continue.

The legislature can act and address these wrongs by increasing the Basic Needs and Utilities levels, and to increase them in line with inflation. The legislature must also increase the amount of the shelter allowance, which provides much-needed support to help families pay their rent. Finally, the legislature must pass the Housing Access Voucher Program, to help families move from homelessness to housing, and provide rent support to struggling families.

Sandra Killett

New York, NY

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