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Scraping by on mom's government assistance, low-income family works odd jobs to make ends meet

Mary Hornbeck and her husband struggle to support themselves and their four children in Albion.
Alli Billings
Michigan Radio
Mary Hornbeck and her husband struggle to support themselves and their four children in Albion.

President Donald Trump's budget plan contains cuts to programs like housing subsidies, child care assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program, and other programs that serve the poor.

With so many of the programs under threat, Stateside set out to talk to people who are struggling with living paycheck to paycheck. The series takes a look at the so-called "working poor" – who they are, what challenges they face, and what policy changes might help the most people.
One of those people struggling to move up the income ladder is Mary Hornbeck. She and her husband and their four children (ages 16, 14, 13, and 11) live in Albion.

Like many people in similar situations, health is a big challenge when it comes to making ends meet. Hornbeck suffers from a spine disease that limits her ability to work. Her husband, who has struggled with a learning disability since he was a child, is trying to get a small business off the ground working in landscaping and snow removal. Mary's 16-year-old son suffers from four different blood disorders, and any injury could be a serious issue that requires hospitalization. Her 14-year-old son is autistic and, as Mary describes it, he has good days and bad days.

Hornbeck's family essentially lives paycheck to paycheck and relies on government assistance to get by. Hornbeck receives disability funds, she gets assistance with rent through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, and she receives food stamps.

For Hornbeck, it hurts when people confront her about receiving government assistance.

"We get cut down or people look at us and say, 'Well, how do you like living off of our tax money? Our tax money is what's paying for you ... why can't you go out and get a real job? Why can't you hold down a real job?'" said Hornbeck. "It makes me sick that people could talk to us like that, but I ignore it and I don't let what they have to say bother me or my family."

According to Hornbeck, people who judge her don't know what it's like to walk in her shoes.

"I think people like that are wrong and they should live a life in the footsteps of people like me and others who struggle day-in and day-out and try to make a living and can't," said Hornbeck. 

Listen to the full interview above to hear how they adjust when unexpected expenses come up, the challenges of raising teenagers with minimal funds, and why she doesn't think politicians can relate to people like her.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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