Anti-Poverty Network of NJ’s Executive Director Grew Up Living in Poverty

More New Jersey residents live in poverty than at any time in the past five decades. Nearly three million according to Legal Services of New Jersey. The state has not increased monthly welfare payments in 29 years. The Kids Count annual report indicates a third of children in the state live in poverty in families still chasing the dream. The New Executive Director of the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey herself grew up in poverty in Camden. Renee Koubiadis thank you for being with us.

Koubiadis: Thank you.

Williams: You speak of systemic issues that keep people entrapped in poverty. What factors contribute to these high numbers?

Koubiadis: Well, there are a number of factors. We have had stagnation of wages over the past 40 years which keep people in poverty — if they’re working even. We have a term in this country — working poor — and those are two words that never should be heard together in the richest nation in the world.

Williams: How did your own experiences growing up in poverty inspire your advocacy work?

Koubiadis: Sure, so, we were on welfare for most of my childhood, which was AFDC, the precursor to TANF which is the current cash assistance. My mom actually had to work under the table cleaning other people’s homes because that amount alone was not enough to survive on. That was in 1987 when that was last raised as our family was leaving welfare.

Williams: So, what is the impact of Gov. Christie’s veto of the bill that would have increased the welfare payments, if you will, for the first time?

Koubiadis: Right, so, families are struggling. I don’t know how they survive on this amount with the increased cost of living over the last 40 years and housing in food, and in health care. On that same benefit level.

Williams: You often speak how isolating poverty is, what do you mean by that?

Koubiadis: Well, I think when anybody is oppressed by any system, including racism, we feel like we are alone. Our society makes us feel like we should all be angry with each other and we certainly hear that rhetoric from a current presidential candidate that stokes that perception that we should be blaming each other for the problem instead of the systemic issue of poverty in our state and our country. In order to work with people who have had experiences of poverty you need to first make sure that they are ready to become an advocate and they’re not still stuck in that low self-esteem and depression that comes with poverty.

Williams: And advocate for themselves, right?

Koubiadis: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my mo,m when I first started talking to her, when I became an adult and became an advocate, started telling me about every three to six months she would go into the welfare office for her re-determination and she felt dehumanized by the person on the other side of the desk in terms of she didn’t even deserve the money.

Williams: So how can the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey address these issues going forward?

Koubiadis: Well, we’re working with all of our member organizations and individuals with lived experience of poverty who are part of the organization statewide to really look at our options. We’re continuing to work with legislators, with state officials to correct this and hopefully get some of these gains in the future.

Williams: Okay, Renee Koubiadis thank you for joining us.

Koubiadis: Thank you very much.

Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.