Along with joining others in public policy advocacy to protect services for low-income people, Cathy McGinty, director of VOICES, said that low-income people also need to build personal advocacy skills.
"Companies make money on people who accept unfair charges and practices," she
shared two stories of personal advocacy at the recent Congress on TANF—Temporary Assistance to Needy Families—at Salem Lutheran Church
One of her
stories was about car insurance rates and another about cell phone charges.Her
self-advocacy saved her
was not working, she
did not have insurance on her
old car.A law passed requiring insurance.It put people who did not have insurance in a high-premium class for two years.At the end of that period, she
expected to have the market rate, but was put in a high rate because it was an old car. Cathy
wrote the insurance commissioner to say the policy discriminated against low-income people.She
never had an accident or a ticket.The insurance commissioner agreed.
"I could have accepted the policy and paid too much.By standing up for myself, I paid the market rate," Cathy
began using a new cell phone, she
tried for months to find the number of minutes used out of the plan of 500 minutes for $30.There was no response to her
repeated inquiries, and no bill.Then, after two-and-a-half months, she
received a bill for $474.It was impossible to pay.So she
wrote the Better Business Bureau
in Colorado, where the cell phone company's headquarters was, and the BBB
in Washington, requesting that the bill be adjusted to the monthly fee and roaming.The bill was reduced to $93 for the three months she
had the phone.
"We can do personal advocacy in many ways, advocating about problems related to medical care, child custody, nursing-home stays, long distance charges, bank account charges or welfare payments," she
advised people to be prepared, keep records and have allies to prevent losing their temper and creating "a barrier you can't get beyond" or even facing a felony assault charge for yelling.She
told people to call VOICES—Voices for Opportunities, Income, child Care, Education and Support—for volunteer allies to accompany them as witnesses when they feel they are treated unfairly.
"The key to personal advocacy is never to give up.If you become frustrated, walk away so you can gather your faculties, resolve and more information.Then regroup, find allies and go back again," she