Assemblyman Bob Reilly has never lived on food stamps or had to worry about how much money he spent for lunch, but for the next few weeks he’ll be counting pennies and stretching every dollar.
Reilly, a Democrat who represents the 109th Assembly District, which includes Colonie, Clifton Park and Halfmoon, is participating in the “Walk-a-Mile” program. The national program was brought to the state through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and is designed to give policy-makers the chance to see how low-income families live.
“Even today, I brought a banana and pretzels for lunch and I had to think about what this is costing me,” Reilly said Friday. “I’ve never concerned myself with what I’m spending on lunch.”
Reilly is joining newcomer Assemblyman George Amedore, a Republican representing the 105th Assembly District, which includes all of Montgomery County and parts of Schenectady County.
Both legislators, who are among 18 other legislators across the state, view this program as a chance to be engaged in their communities and see first hand how their actions affect others.
Reilly has been paired with 50-year-old Debra Hines of Albany, who is raising her three young grandchildren, ages 6, 4 and 2, by herself. Reilly said Hines does not have a job and is terrified of going on welfare. Also, her daughter is expecting another child.
Amedore said his partner, Debra Turner, a mother of two grown children who is in her mid-40s and lives in the Hamilton Hill neighborhood of Schenectady, is “a bright, kind and caring person, but opportunities have not come her way.”
Reilly and Amedore are supposed to meet with their partners throughout the length of the program, which runs through Feb. 11.
Reilly said his biggest challenge is scheduling time to meet with Hines.
“I told her that I’m really busy and I have about 20 meetings a day,” Reilly said. “She told me that she is really busy too. It was an eye opening response because of course someone raising three young children is just as busy as someone who has 20 meetings a day.”
Amedore’s largest challenge is contacting Turner because she does not have a phone. Among Turner’s many challenges are utility bills that are higher than her rent. Turner also doesn’t have a car and lives on food stamps.
Reilly believes that this experience is going to affect his policy-making in the future. He pointed out that a person like Hines can’t work and take care of three children because child care costs are too expensive.
“She is looking at about $25,000 per year on child care and she can probably only aspire to make $25,000 per year,” Reilly said. “It’s easy to criticize people when they are economically depressed, but look at the numbers she faces. How can she raise three young kids by herself?”
Amedore said he is learning about government inefficiencies through this process.
“I want to make sure that every dollar we spend is getting back to the right people,” he said.
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