Travel Log: Beaver and Erie
Sister Andrea Koverman, SC
October 22, 2018
Day 15 was a busy one! We began with a lobby visit at the office of Keith Rothfus in Beaver, PA. Representative Rothfus’s Field Director, Patty Hoover, met with a contingency of the Nuns on the Bus including Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS; Sr. Richelle Fuiedman, PBVM; and myself. But the most important members of the group were Representative Rothfus’s four local constituents. They were disappointed not to be meeting with Rep. Rothfus himself, but Patty explained that that he was an extreme introvert and didn’t meet with his constituents because he was so shy.
Erin Gabriel is a young mother with four children who all have autism. Her youngest daughter, Abby, was with her today. Abbey has multiple complex medical challenges in addition to her autism. She is both nonverbal and non-ambulatory. Erin expressed the fear and extreme anxiety she experiences around the proposed cuts to Medicaid/Medicare and what they would mean for Abby’s quality of life. Erin said her biggest fear is that Abby might beat the odds and outlive her mother, wondering what will happen to her daughter and who would provide for her needs.
Erin challenged Rep. Rothfus’s professed pro-life stance, saying that it isn’t pro-life to not protect the people who are so vulnerable that they depend on the social support services for their very survival. Erin believes those kind of policies actually encourage abortion because people are afraid they can’t afford to support a child with special needs.
Barbara Yorns lives in public senior housing and said that the 100 or so people she lives with are all dependent on their Medicaid. They are all very worried because they are barely surviving as it is, and any cuts would be catastrophic for them.
Don Crutchman is an organic farmer who shared how concerned he is about the lack of support for the immigrants that come to our country. He said what a benefit they are to our economy and is distressed that Representative Rothfus doesn’t take a stronger stand in opposition to party line rhetoric on immigration and the rest of the party line itself. He challenged Rep. Rothfus to offer new solutions to divisive issues, and to represent the wishes of his constituents over those of the Republican Party.
Ms. Hoover defended Rep. Rothfus’s position on the tax policy and the reasons he supported its passing. We asked her to communicate to him that the deficit created by tax breaks benefiting corporations and the 1% should not be made up at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our communities.
After leaving Beaver, we grabbed lunch-to-go and headed for a rally in Erie, PA. Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Mayor Joe Schember, Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, and NAACP President, Gary Horton. Sisters from local communities led all gathered in prayer and song, singing, “Justice Will Roll.”
Ms. Dahlkemper talked about the historic poverty of the region and how strongly the proposed cuts to basic services will affect people already really struggling to get by. Mr. Horton told us that Erie County is the worst county in the country, in economic terms, for a black person to live. A young member of NAACP explained how difficult it is to manage school debt, and challenged the audience to vote for policies that help young adults pursue education and career aspirations, and to recognize the investment that is our shared future.
Terri Hulihan is a constituent who shared her story of going from a successful career with a healthy salary and benefits to being dependent on Medicaid/Medicare to cover a series of unexpected and serious surgeries. She was unable to continue working or to find insurance for her now “pre-existing condition.” She said she would not be alive today if it weren’t for the support she got from Medicaid and Medicare, and asked the audience to remember that for many people, these benefits are literally a matter of life or death.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to the chant led by Mr. Horton: “When we vote, we win!” We left with a stack of signed cards on which people pledged to support reasonable revenue for responsible programs and many more signatures on the bus!