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8 Jailed - $96,000 Bail

Minnesota's Poor Wage War on Welfare Limits!

by Linden Gawboy |
May 7, 2001
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cops arresting woman
Sit-in participants arrested in Minnesota state capitol. (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)

St. Paul, MN - "House Republicans! We're at your door! Stop stealing from the poor!" chanted more than 150 low-income people, outside the doors to the chambers of the MN House of Representatives, May 3. In front of the chamber doors sat 8 determined people. The 8 were arrested, and jailed overnight with bails of $12,000 each.

The sit-in followed a protest on the front steps of the state capitol. The Welfare Rights Committee and the Stop the 5-Year Limit Coalition organized the rally locally, and the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition brought in poor people from around the state.

Dedi Francis of the Welfare Rights Committee opened up the rally with "We are here today show our support for the poor people's bills that are being passed in the Senate, and to show our complete outrage for the attacks on poor families being carried out by House republicans."

Poor People's Bills

Francis was referring to bills in the legislature that the MN Welfare Rights Coalition had a hand in writing and getting through the full Senate. "Our biggest priority for this year is to do something about this time limit," said Deb Konechne of Welfare Rights. "If nothing is done, nearly 5,000 families, which adds up to 15,000 children, would be cut off on July1, 2002 And that's just in the first month. We also have bills to stop illegal sanctions, stop the $100 per month grant cut to families in subsidized housing, stop racist attacks on immigrants and to allow education as a first choice for parents on welfare."

Republican Bills

"House republicans are stealing from the poor, to give a tax cut to the rich," declared WRC member Kim Hosmer. "Their plan, written by Representative Kevin 'No-Good' Goondo (R-Moorhead), steals $42 million from the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families block grant. They are using this money, which was intended for needy families, to put in the general fund so that they can give a tax break to the rich. It's just criminal."

Dedi Francis added "We see our people on the streets right now, and they want to cut even more. Under the republican plan, most families would be cut off when they hit the time limit. Their bill will increase the sanctions to 100%! The House republicans are pure evil." Days after the protest, the outright theft of TANF money was dropped from the Republican plan.

Civil Disobedience

After the rally, most people filtered up to the second floor of the capitol, where the 167-member House of Representatives was meeting. They unfurled a banner demanding that House republicans stop stealing from the poor. Eight people marched up to the doors to the House chamber, sat down, started chanting, and refused to leave. The group included 5 Welfare Rights Committee members and 3 supporters from the Stop the 5-Year Limit Coalition and the Anti-War Committee.

$12,000 Bails

That evening Ramsey County jail officials told supporters of the 8 people arrested that bail for each of the arrestees was set at $12,000. No formal charges were filed, leaving open the possibility of a long jail stay before arraignment. The arrestees were released the next day.

A statement sent out by the Welfare Rights Committee after hearing of the bails states: "A $12,000 bail is unprecedented in the recent history of the social justice movement in the twin cities. What these individuals were engaging in was freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition their government. Apparently, the State of MN is trying to charge a total of $96,000 for these basic freedoms." Welfare Rights members and supporters immediately mobilized a call-in campaign to capitol officials and supportive legislators. As of June 28, no charges have been filed.

Courage in the face of brutality

According to Debbie Pflepson, who was roughly treated by the arresting officer, "I was doing this for the rights of the children of the world, so they don't have to be homeless. I was homeless and living on the streets with my kids for 3 months. I was lucky I got a friend to help us out. But I don't want anyone to go through what I had to go through. The way the cops treated me was terrible, disrespectful to me and the people watching, I'm still feeling it. But I would do it again, because the children of the world shouldn't have to worry about being homeless."

Legislative Battle

MN's legislative session stretched up to June 30, putting the government on the brink of a shutdown. Poor people beat back most of the worst Republican attacks, and made gains in education for welfare recipients. WRC members are angry about the outcome of the time limit bills, however. "The governor sold out the poor people of Minnesota to suck up to House Republicans," said Deb Konechne. "What we wound up with was a plan that will only give time limit extensions for half of the people hitting the time limit, not for every needy family. That is absolutely unacceptable, and we will be back next year, before the time limit hits, to make sure that not one family is hurt by this sick government."