Preserving America's Safety Net

02/10/2012 05:50 pm ET | Updated Apr 11, 2012
  • Tammy Duckworth U.S. Representative from Illinois' 8th Congressional District

I was on Martin Bashir's MSNBC show this week and one of the things we talked about was Newt Gingrich's effort to brand President Obama as the "food stamp president." I think it's just more proof that Gingrich is wildly out of touch. When I hear from people who are struggling to put food on the table, I understand because I've been there.

When I was young, my dad, a Veteran who attended college on the GI Bill, lost his job at age 55 when the company he worked for was sold. My entire family pitched in -- my mom took in sewing and I got a minimum wage job after school. But even with that extra work, there were lots of times when we wouldn't have eaten had it not been for the food stamps that kept our family going.

Nobody wants to be on food stamps, but when my family lost everything, we were grateful for it. I was grateful the program was there so I could concentrate on my schoolwork and not on my empty belly. We were grateful that we had the support we needed to roll up our sleeves and rebuild our lives.

What seems like comfort and security one day can all be taken away the very next. That's what the safety net is there for -- to support people who've fallen on hard times while they get back on their feet.

And it's not just about food stamps. It's about programs like Pell grants, which allowed me to go to college. It's about providing incentives for small business to hire people who are unemployed so that they can get back to work. It's about job training programs that allow people to get the skills they need to be hired. It's about making sure that even if you don't come from a wealthy family, you can get a good education and have a fair shot at the American Dream.

Life isn't fair and it isn't government's job to make life fair. But if you're not willing to give up on yourself, then we shouldn't give up on you either.

Tammy is running for Congress in Illinois' 8th District. To learn more, visit

Watch Tammy talk about food stamps here: