Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., caught an overnight flight from Washington, D.C., so he could listen to the stories of Rogue Valley people who say they will be hurt by cuts in President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget.
"I saw the face of what these cuts are going to mean," Wyden said during a Friday morning meeting with social services groups and individuals in a Family Nurturing Center classroom in Medford.
Wyden said he will use the personal stories as ammunition to fight Trump's proposed budget and Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. A replacement plan cleared the House of Representatives this week and now heads to the Senate.
Trump proposes cutting a broad swath of programs to pay for $54 billion in increased defense spending. The White House says the 10 percent increase would be used to ramp up the fight against ISIS and to build new ships and planes.
Military spending would grow to $639 billion for the 2018 fiscal year, or approximately $1,950 for every man, woman and child in the country.
Obamacare spending funnels nearly $219 million into the Jackson County economy. But Oregon's expansion of health insurance coverage has contributed to a $1.6 billion state budget deficit, even though the federal government picks up most of the tab.
After the House voted Thursday to repeal Obamacare, Michelle Glass said she spent all day on the phone talking with people, many of them in tears, who are afraid they will lose their health insurance. Glass is regional director for the Rogue Valley Chapter of Unite Oregon.
One in three Jackson County residents is now on the Oregon Health Plan after the ACA expanded eligibility for the subsidized health insurance.
Sarah Westover told Wyden she grew up in poverty as one of four children in a single-parent family. Although she had OHP coverage as a kid, she was dropped from the plan at age 18.
She suffers from epilepsy and chronic migraines, but went without health insurance and medical care for a decade. Westover would sometimes get free samples of her epilepsy medication — which costs $400 per month — from community health centers. She would cut the pills in half when she had them, but usually went without.
In 2015, she was able to get health insurance through the OHP expansion.
"Health care is a human right, and all people should have access to it," said Westover, who is a member of the Phoenix City Council.
Rachael Staff said she was a working mom with three kids when she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. She survived because of a stem cell transplant. Food aid, energy assistance and Head Start preschool for her son are among the programs that have helped her weather the medical crisis.
Wyden said people like Staff who have had cancer would be hard-hit by proposed Republican changes to the ACA.
"They are really gutting the protections for people with pre-existing conditions," he said.
Phillip Yates of the social services organization ACCESS said Trump's budget cuts affordable housing and food assistance spending. He said Jackson County is already in a housing crisis when it comes to affordability and the number of housing units available. The rental vacancy rate has fallen below 2 percent.
"We're seeing more people being homeless," Yates said.
Cuts to food aid would cause people to fall back on emergency food banks, which don't have the resources to meet the need, he said.
Families who are turning their lives around at the Family Nurturing Center would be especially vulnerable, said founder Mary Curtis Gramley.
She said 65 percent of the kids attending the center don't have adequate food, 36 percent lack stable housing and 88 percent are in families with incomes below the federal poverty line. Many of the parents are receiving drug and alcohol treatment.
"We learned from the very beginning if you do not help the family, you cannot help the child," she said.
Wyden said paying for a $54 billion boost in defense spending by cutting programs is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible. If families and kids don't get help early on, society and taxpayers will pay more later.
"I'm very much aware there are thousands of families in southwest Oregon walking an economic tightrope," he said.
— Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or email@example.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.