Take It From Me
Take It From Me makes an emotional statement even more than a political one. This documentary film chronicles the time period after the passing of the 1996 Personal Responsibility Act, which placed a five-year limit on public assistance. Emily Abt, the producer and director, is a former social caseworker in New York City. She offers us the daily lives of four women who are struggling against great odds to raise themselves and their children up out of poverty.
Abby is a nineteen-year-old mother of three who has been turned down for public assistance six times due to reasons varying from her age to her parents making too much money to qualify. Her sons have been placed in foster care until she can get an apartment. Yet without public and housing assistance, she cannot pay for it with her paltry earnings. It is heartbreaking to watch as her sons suffer physical and emotional abuse in foster homes, while Abby’s case continues to get delayed by the courts. She is a loving mother, easy to root for, and it is frustrating to watch her being dragged around by a heartless system.
Iyoka and Louie Riveria are a young married couple with a young daughter, who have suffered a house fire which left them temporarily homeless in a shelter. They are cut off from welfare during the film as Iyoka chooses between public assistance and completing her college degree. Her strength, pride, and desire to offer her daughter a better life is admirable. Iyoka worries about not being able to afford health insurance or daycare for her daughter. Louie shares it is difficult to feel like a man while they are experiencing that “no one is on their side.” By the end of the film, they are separated as the strain of their financial situation is too much for their relationship.
Teresa has been out of work for three years and has gone on multiple job interviews in that time. She is facing the threat of having her very small public assistance funds taken away from her at any moment. Her nineteen-year-old son lives with her and suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness. Teresa’s life is consumed with frugality, stretching the amount she gets as far as she can when most of it “only goes to cover the phone and electric bill.” The filmmakers lose touch with Teresa as she refuses to talk to them anymore after her son has an extreme reaction to their presence. In her last interview, Teresa candidly tells the camera that without the welfare money, she is sure that she and her son will die.
Valentina is a recovered alcoholic and drug abuser and mother to at least four children. She has been on welfare for twenty-eight years and offers an inspirational story of recovery and perseverance. Raised in foster care, abandoned by a drug addicted mother, Valentina is proud to have kept her promise to her own children that she would never leave them. She works cleaning pots for $5.50 an hour, yet she also dreams of getting her GED and a better job. She is ready to get off of welfare and is also realistic that even working full-time, it is only with the help of her local church that she is able to make it. One of the most inspirational scenes in the movie is when she encourages other recovering addicted mothers to take it one day at a time, and think of their children first.
The film effectively makes a point about the shadow side of the American dream and how public assistance creates dependency without empowerment. It also shows the tragic impact of our inability to provide for all of our citizens by meeting their needs, nourishing and taking care of their children, and supporting the empowerment of women, especially single mothers.