Dear American Taxpayers, Thank You for Saving My Life


Keira Shae wrote this letter in November of 2011 as part of a class assignment for a course at Utah Valley University. It was published in the Daily Herald a few months later and reprinted in several other newspapers across the country. It is reprinted as an appendix to Keira’s new book How the Light Gets In, which will be published by BCC Press on July 24. Among the comments the letter received when it was first published were “I’m not accepting your thanks because I was taxed, I did not not willingly give. I wouldn’t have really supported you.” And “a dead child is better than a welfare child.” We believe that our BCC Readers will do much better in the comments section, and we offer it to you as our gift to you on this Fourth of July.


cover-light_gets_in-6x9in-frontDear American Taxpayers,

My name is Keira, and I am twenty-three years old.  I am the daughter of an uneducated, meth-addicted prostitute who was the single mother of six children.  Since 1987, you have supported me as you paid your taxes. You are the sole reason I am alive today. I am writing to thank you for it. I hope this message gets to you.

From the moment my mother found out she was pregnant with me, to the time I graduated from college, the taxes you have paid have been my bread and butter, my warmth and shelter, my health and happiness.  I was born in a clean, safe hospital staffed with competent doctors because of Medicaid. I was vaccinated, diagnosed, treated, medicated, and consistently checked because of your tax-paid public assistance.  I received better dental care than my husband, whose parents never spent a government dime. I was an overall healthy child.

I was fed nutritious food and vitamin-fortified cereals to keep malnourishment at bay thanks to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and my mother learned how to provide varied meals for my growing body because of the resources and education offered by that program.  Later in life, I subsisted entirely on the meals provided by Food Stamps as my source of food at home. At school I was offered a free breakfast and lunch, and sometimes those were my only meals for the day. I would have starved without this charity. At times even that wasn’t enough, so I want to thank you for donating to places like your local food bank, which always helped us get through the holidays.

Sometimes we could not afford to heat our home, and state-funded programs paid for our warmth in the winter.  Sometimes we could not afford personal hygiene items such as diapers, toilet paper, shampoo, or toothpaste, but various churches and volunteer programs such as Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) or The Children’s Justice Center were always willing to step in and help a family in need.  At times we could not afford new clothes, but thanks to places like the Salvation Army and Deseret Industries, we never went without a pair of shoes.

When we could not afford rent, we lived in government-subsidized housing.  These houses were sparse, but they were always clean, always safe, and always in good repair.  I lived in comparatively safe neighborhoods as well, and was always sad when we had to move. I felt that the houses or apartments the government offered were better than the more expensive, run-down rent alternatives we lived in.

Christmastime was always very hard, but we had wonderful Christmases thanks to Sub-for-Santa.  Every year was a joy as we opened the gifts piled under our Christmas tree—Santa really did exist.

I was educated by the public school system, and had this been any other country or any other time, I would not have had that opportunity.  I learned to read, and I devoured books. I was successful in my school work simply because I could read well. Because of public transportation, and because there was a library in every city in which I lived, my grandmother and I would ride the bus to the library each Saturday so I could  choose good literature to read from an extensive selection of books. I was empowered by the ideas I consumed, and I was exposed to the idea of higher education—college–because of the characters in those books and because of the librarians I befriended. I also had school counselors and teachers who guided me along the way, encouraging college and lifetime learning, so that by the time I graduated high school, I knew that was my goal.  I knew it would better my life.

When I was taken into foster care at fifteen years old, I lived in safe foster homes owned by volunteer foster parents.  Your taxes paid reimbursements for my housing, food, and clothing there, as well as the medical and mental services I needed while living in foster care.

My foster parents were good, kind people, and they taught me how to work hard. With the help of a licensed professional, I was able to work through some of the issues that landed me in foster care. I was seen by a caseworker a few times a month so that I always had someone to report to if anything was awry.  I was defended in court by a Guardian-ad-Litem free of charge, so I had someone to state my case. I was very lucky.

I went to a state-funded university, and was  able to attend by the grace of scholarships and federal Pell grants.  Thank you for giving me the gift of higher education that I would have otherwise known nothing about, or if I had, I would never have dreamed I could  attain.

Although these programs are the only reason I am alive, well, and educated today, I am happy to report that my little family, currently consisting of my husband, myself, and my son, has never applied for a single welfare program.  Although currently we qualify for WIC, food stamps, and Medicaid, we will not take them because we do not need them. Nonetheless I am grateful that they were there for me when I needed them. My mother may not have always used the government’s assistance well, but I am alive today in spite of that, thanks to your kindness.

You may or may not support these programs, you may belong to the Republican or Democrat or Green Party or whatever else.  We do not have to agree all the time. But you paid your taxes. You probably dropped spare change into the Salvation Army Santa’s bucket at Christmastime.  You probably donated old clothes every once in a while. You may have volunteered to be a Sub-for-Santa one year. You may have dropped a can or two into the Food Bank bin at the grocery store.  You probably did it, never thinking you would get a thank you, and you were not expecting one. That’s just what good people do.

But I’m here to say thank you.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Had I been born in any other time, any other country, I would not have lived to be twenty-three.  I would have died for lack of a vaccination. I would have died without oxygen at birth. I would have frozen in winter.  I could have died in a filthy neighborhood or starved, hungry and malnourished. I could have been just another illiterate girl.  But I’m not, because I was blessed (or lucky) enough to be born now, to be born in the United States of America. I am a free, college-educated, vaccinated, perfectly healthy American woman.

Oftentimes, those who receive these types of assistance do so thanklessly, receiving money from a faceless establishment, and seem to only demand more.  Those who pay into the system feel it is an insatiable beast with no gratitude for the gift. I am starting now with a thank you that is twenty-three years in the making. Thank you for the gift of life.  I hope to give back, starting today, with a heart full of gratitude, by saying: Thank you, for paying your taxes.



  1. Wait, people were actually offended by this? She thanked both the taxpayer and the person donating to private charities. Besides, even if you had ideological objections to some of these programs, why get mad at the one person who writes you a thank you note?

    Oh well, crazy times!

    Although I was not a taxpayer while you were growing up, I appreciate the maturity to recognize your dependence on others and thank them. This is a difficult thing for any human to do (especially me!), so thank you for the example. I will attempt to write my own thank you letters to the people and institutions I’ve taken for granted! Can’t wait to read your book!

  2. nobody, really says:

    There’s nothing that makes me happier than knowing that somebody out there has broken a destructive family cycle. It is my most sincere hope that everyone out there, no matter what their situation, can identify one thing that they experienced while growing up that they choose not to pass on to their children. It took my family three generations to end a cycle of abuse – you are to be commended for ending a cycle of poverty and abuse in a single generation.

  3. Anne Chovies says:

    It’s nice to hear of a success story. So often all that makes the news is the negative side. I’d wager that many of those that complain benefitted personally from some of the programs she mentions. Yes, charity is better when it’s freely given but it’s still such a blessing to those in need, especially when they are able to succeed so well because of the help. Those that begrudge the help their taxes give others mostly hurt themselves.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you for the lovely thank you note. God bless!

  5. Thanks for this lovely way of commemorating the Fourth.

  6. jaxjensen says:

    Wonderfully well written. Thanks for posting (and writing) this.

    Out of curiosity, you were one of six? How are the other 5 doing?

  7. Jack Hughes says:

    Love this. I’ve always found it troubling that many conservative Utah politicians (and by extension, the voters who put them in office)–who claim to be righteous Mormons promoting family values–are the ones leading the charge to gut public education and dismantle social programs. I hope at least some of them get to read this letter.

  8. This is wonderful. Thanks for posting it.

  9. I just received a total knee replacement. The total bill was over $40,000. My part was $1,000.00. If it weren’t for the Affordable Health Care Act I would not be walking without pain and a cane. Thank you.

  10. Emily U says:

    This made me cry. Keira, I can’t wait to read your book.

  11. Thank YOU Keira! We are lucky and blessed to have you.

  12. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I would imagine that most of the original commenters who said things like “a dead child is better than a welfare child” are truly pathetic people themselves who have done nothing for the betterment of mankind since they left the womb.

    Unfortunately, nobody knows you’re a loser on the internet; they just can be sure of it at a 99.9% confidence level.

  13. Keira,

    I am so happy my tax dollars helped you. That is why I feel grateful to be able to pay them, that we have a systems in place—a govt based on the fact that luck plays a big role in life—beginning with the circumstances we are born into, yet “all men are created equal and with certain unalienable rights—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Keep speaking out and telling your story. It is important.

  14. I’m glad the outcomes were better than in the absence of public assistance, but I’m also okay with paying taxes that go to people who never do get their acts together, simply because a society that jettisons collective responsibility for fear of free riders sounds like a miserable place to live.

  15. What everybody else said. Thank you.

  16. It’s a very thoughtful note. I’m happy for how things have worked out.

    But echoing peterllc: I would avoid any “virtuous poor” suggestion that only certain people deserve help. I am happy to pay in for help to people in need, measuring by need, not by gratitude or future success. By *both* public and private means. I vote and pay and contribute accordingly, and I have no qualms voting in favor of ‘forcing’ everybody else to pay in. It’s all about the society and world I want to live in. Where we take care of each other because each person is valuable and important, not because they give thanks or otherwise deserve it.

  17. Jon Gleiser says:

    Quote: “I was educated by the public school system, and had this been any other country or any other time, I would not have had that opportunity.”

    I guess she doesn’t realize that every other OECD country also offers a public school system?

    But overall a great story of success.

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