I am not alone in missing compassionate legislators. Their strong commitment to the well-being of their constituents kept them grounded in reality. As voters, we felt that they understood the inalienable rights of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Everyone living in the U.S. has the right to a life without fear of hunger, abuse, poverty, homelessness or desperation.

But here we are at budget time, appealing to legislators with little understanding of how to defend our rights and how to listen to their constituents. Life, liberty and happiness are a broken promise for millions of U.S. men, women and children who see little hope on the horizon.

The safety net, or “welfare” so disparaged by our elected leaders, is a total of $6,000 a year for a mother with two children:

a. TANF (welfare) for a mother with two children = $2,400 a year.

b. SNAP (food stamps) for a mother w/2 children = $3,600 a year.

The U.S. invests less in our families than any other country in the developed world. But the budget proposals of our elected leaders — for less food for the hungry, less housing for the homeless, less healthcare for those most in need, less funding for public schools and universities — are an affront to the Declaration of Independence and an abuse of the moral obligation of our leaders to ensure the welfare of their people.

What is the reality?

Over half of our U.S. citizens do not have the resources to handle an unexpected bill of $400.

More than 20 percent of our most precious resource — our children — are living in poverty and increasing homelessness.

The majority of women and children who are homeless are fleeing abuse and violence.

The U.S. has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest support for low income women’s healthcare in the developed world.

A child’s zip code and their parents’ income determine the quality of their education and their access to early childhood education.

Rent is unaffordable to many working families — sometimes 80 percent of their paycheck.

Wages are too low (fulltime work at minimum wage = $15,080 a year) for many working families to afford a home or to afford higher education for themselves or their children.

In 1516, Sir Thomas More wrote that leaders should help people to be prosperous and happy, because poverty breeds anger, distrust and despair. Five hundred years later we have lost sight of why we should help our citizens to be prosperous.

Is it possible to do this when legislators tell us that we don’t have enough money?

You bet it is. And next week you can make this happen.

Call, visit and write to your legislators, and tell them we want a budget that puts people first.

Tell them we want a severance tax on gas like every other state has.

Tell them we want multinational corporations to pay their fair share and stop using the Delaware loophole.

Tell them we have a huge revenue deficit, and we are paying them to find the revenue—not cut funding from our neighbors in need.

And if some cuts are necessary, tell them to cut their six figure pay checks and pensions — that we pay for. One senator recently wrote that illegal immigration has “bankrupted tax payers and endangered American communities.” He needs a reality check.

Dr. Jill Sunday Bartoli is the co-chair of NOAH (New Options for Affordable Housing)

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