By Mrinal Gokhale
Five years ago, Meghan Hilliard, 26, discovered she was pregnant and unexpectedly became a single mother.
A few months earlier, she’d become disabled due to an assault.
She then lost her job and the health insurance it provided, and has been in and out of college since.
In 2014, her FoodShare was reduced to $67.
“I almost committed suicide, thinking ‘maybe someone rich will care for my son,’” she said.
“I moved to Shorewood where I get $217, which isn’t a huge struggle, but I still can’t afford nutritious food.”
Hilliard is one of some 200 people who attended the Everybody Eats Rally, coordinated by Hunger Task Force along with Democratic representatives Jonathan Brostoff of District 19 and David Bowen of District 10.
The rally was held at the Clinton and Bernice Rose Senior Center from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday, June 4.
During the rally, attendees had the chance to sign a petition calling for the restoration of Wisconsin’s Heat and Eat program.
Heat and Eat is a bill that provided extra FoodShare funds to low-income households receiving $1 to $20 in energy assistance, to buffer families who experienced FoodShare cuts implemented by the U.S. Farm Bill.
Wisconsin participated in Heat and Eat with 14 other states until fall of last year, when state government rejected federal funds for the program.
Governor Walker imposed the first major FoodShare cut in 2014 to those living in apartments covering heat.
“Families already living in poverty cannot sustain $100 less in FoodShare,” said Bowen to the crowd. “Re-allocating the $5.4 million federal dollars we already have brings more than $276 million in Food- Share funds for families.”
Bowen went on to say that, on average, families have lost about $99 in Foodshare benefits since Walker implemented the budget cut.
He said that re-implementing the Heat and Eat bill would help approximately 255,000 low-income families afford food. Rep. Brostoff also spoke at the rally, saying that the FoodShare cuts are detrimental to the elderly and disabled.
“What’s alarming is the fact that we’re spending so much money while also cutting funds from our public schools education system, our social programs and our community in areas that could really use the funds now,” he said.
Hilliard has moved from Milwaukee’s north side to Brostoff’s district and her son is out of the Milwaukee Public Schools system.
But she feels her struggles are far from over.
“Because of my assault, I get seizures sometimes and take medicines,” she explained.
“My doctor gave me a list of foods that cause side effects but I can’t afford to avoid those foods.”
Hilliard has worked on and off since becoming disabled, and when she’s not working, she volunteers with Growing Power. She has been very open about her experiences with the media, hoping to make a difference.
“With all the tax coming from the right wing, I feel compelled to tell my story because I want people to understand not everybody can plan for poverty,” she explained.
“People should feel disgusted that low income people are having their FoodShare cut when there are other priorities.”