Editor’s note: Savannah Kinsey presented this testimony during a House Budget Committee on Poverty in America on June 19, 2019. The hearing was part of a series of events in Washington, D.C. organized by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival to highlight the campaign’s Poor People’s Moral Budget.
I am 22 years old, a member of the LGBTQ community, and I am from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which is a town of about 20,000 people in Western Pennsylvania. The population of Johnstown is about 77 percent white, 14 percent African American, and 4 percent Latino.
I graduated from Greater Johnstown High in 2014. And even though I graduated, everyday life is still very challenging. This is because the school system is very flawed and doesn’t teach the real history of this country. Education should teach all of us to hear and understand everyone’s differences, and backgrounds that they have come from.
Johnstown used to be a booming steel mill town. But once the mills closed, it went downhill. If you’ve heard of my town at all, it’s probably because of our opioid problem. I’ve known a few people who’ve died, including my friend Nycki.
She was poor, like a lot of people in Johnstown. In fact, Johnstown has the highest poverty rate of any town in the state. Thirty-eight percent of all people and 63 percent of people under 18 are living below the official poverty line.
Nycki turned to drugs and that led to going in and out of jail. She never got the treatment she needed. When she overdosed two years ago, she left behind a four-year-old daughter. Nycki was just 26 years old.
Savannah Kinsey, after testifying before the House Budget Committee, June 19, 2019.
Some people say us young people are lazy. But that’s not true. Johnstown just doesn’t have enough jobs that pay enough to live on.
I’m on disability and Medicaid and I’m grateful for the help I get, but it’s not enough to get by. Last year out of nowhere my benefits for food stamps got cut down to $15 a month. I have tried asking why this was and can never get a straight answer. At the grocery store I sometimes have to put food back or add the charge to my credit card debt because I don’t have the cash. What’s going to happen when all of my credit card is maxed out and still don’t have the cash? I’m not the only person in this boat that’s sinking. There’s many others out there also.
What’s really helped lower my anxiety is getting involved with Put People First! PA. This is a group that gives people like me the opportunity to organize to make things better. To be honest, it’s really become like my family.