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Fund Human Need, Not Corporate Greed

by staff |
June 1, 2004
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Mother + toddler + stroller + protest sign:"Pawlenty is a Monster."
Welfare Rights Committee protest on the steps of the state capitol building. The WRC demands that politicians tax the rich and undo the cuts to public assistance (Fight Back! News/Kim DeFranco)

Minneapolis, MN - Minnesota state politicians were forced into a corner this spring. This year, the Welfare Rights Committee presented them with a choice: to fund human needs, or not. To stop greedy corporations stealing from the state, or not. The bill that presented those choices was one of main reasons that the entire state legislature shut down on May 19, without getting anything done.

The Welfare Rights Committee (WRC) went into the 2004 state legislative session determined to undo the worst welfare grant cuts in Minnesota history. These cuts to families’ basic survival income were part of politicians’ plan to steal money from the poor, in the name of ‘solving’ last year’s budget deficit. One of the harshest cuts was where legislators stole $125 per month from the welfare grants in cases where there was a disability in the family. If there were two disabled people in the family, the cut was $250 per month; three disabled people, the cut was $375 per month and so on. Some families were left with no cash grant. This is just one of dozens of cuts that poor and working families have been dealing with.

WRC members met with state Senator Linda Berglin, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Corrections Budget Division to get a commitment to undoing the cuts. However, to undo the $125 cut alone, Welfare Rights had to find $16 million per year in the state budget. To undo all of the cuts would require even more money. It was time to tax the rich. The women of the WRC met with Senate Tax Chair Larry Pogemiller and, after some pressure, got a list of ways that the Minnesota corporations were robbing the state. The final result was a bill (SF1991) that undid the some of the worst cuts to health care and welfare. The bill paid for itself by closing corporate tax loopholes - loopholes that were robbing the state of $52 million per year.

The WRC organized protests, press conferences and other actions throughout the legislative session. They produced a TV commercial slamming the governor and House Republicans, which aired throughout the state near the end of the session in May. The slogan from the beginning was, “Fund human need, not corporate greed.” The goal was to keep front and center the fact that poor families were suffering from terrible cuts, brought on because the state said it ‘needed’ to take our money. At the same time, the rich owners of greedy corporations were openly stealing money from the state by cheating on their taxes. And there was a bill to fix both problems. The WRC insisted that the Senate Democrats keep hammering on this point as well.

The message was strong, clear and just, and it drove the Republicans and the Governor nuts. They refused to debate the issues in public, knowing that they would expose themselves for the monsters that they were. They tried to make the session all about queer-bashing, instead of talking about their buddies stealing money. Because of that refusal, the state legislature adjourned without passing a budget-balancing bill, bonding bills or other important legislation.

Last year, the Senate Democrats sold out poor and working Minnesotans, and faced our wrath and disgust. So far this year, the Democrats have been holding to undoing the cuts and taxing the rich. The governor could still call a special session this summer, and these issues could be decided. If a special session is called, the Welfare Rights Committee will be there.