St. Paul, MN - Minnesotans packed a hearing room at the Minnesota State Capitol March 23 to speak out against the Republican-sponsored House Health and Human Services Finance bill. The bill, HF 927, cuts many services and programs for low income people, the ill, the elderly and disabled. It also includes provisions that make it so that people on public assistance can only withdraw $20 in cash per month.
Cash is ‘outlawed’
Virginia Amy Weldon testified for the Welfare Rights Committee (WRC), outlining some of the worst attacks to people on public assistance. “Here are just a few reasons why this bill HF927 should be voted down in its entirety. First, the part that makes it illegal for MFIP [Minnesota’s welfare program for families] families and people on General Assistance [the states cash assistance program for disabled people] to withdraw most of the cash from the cash portion of the grant. In fact, it essentially makes it illegal for poor people to possess more than $20 in cash or coin at any given time.”
Weldon continued, “This bill calls for all MFIP and GA business to be transacted via a state-issued debit card, which is so impractical it’s ridiculous. The cost and hassle to landlords and businesses to add EBT terminals across the state would be huge. But the burden placed on the poorest in this state would be worse. You can’t use an EBT to buy postage, do laundry, ride the bus, set up a checking account, pay children’s school fees, pay medical co-pays or many, many other things.”
The WRC’s Kim Hosmer told Fight Back!, “For those of us who live on the limited funds that MFIP and GA provide, and who often use money orders to pay things like our rent or utilities, it makes it nearly impossible for us to pay our bills.”
Jessica Webster, a staff attorney for Legal Aid, testified that the EBT part of the bill was the most harsh and punitive legislation she has ever seen.
Weldon concluded her testimony on the EBT provisions: “In short, this is part of the bill would be laughable - if it weren’t so mean-spirited and insulting.”
‘You can’t leave...and you can’t come in’
HF927 also has two provisions dealing with residency. One says that MFIP recipients can’t use their EBT cash outside the state of Minnesota. The other says that if poor people come into the state, they cannot access their federal/state cash benefits for 90 days. The Welfare Rights Committee and other blasted these proposals.
On the proposal to outlaw using the EBT out of state, Weldon said, “The part of the bill that makes it illegal to withdraw MFIP benefits out of state puts burdens on families who are forced to leave to attend funerals, sick relatives, visit family members in the military, hunt for jobs and all the other things we have to leave home for.”
On the residency requirements, she added, “When we are that broke and desperate, we don’t move to other states for ‘fun’ or for ‘great benefits.’ We move because we have concrete hopes and plans to make a better life. In this time of economic crisis, everyone in this country should have equal rights at survival.”
Legal Aid representatives and others pointed out residency requirements have been proven unconstitutional in the past.
Crawl to the store?
HF927 would make it so that the $20 in cash allowed in the bill could not be withdrawn at ATMs in certain establishments. It also says that only the head of household (not an older child or a personal care attendant) could present the card to a vendor.
Mr. Paulson, who uses a wheelchair, testified, “This is very troublesome. I relied on my PCAs [personal care attendants] to shop for me with my card.” He also said “If I couldn’t get to the store to get money, I would have to go to the local bar and withdraw from their ATM.”
‘$203 per month is too much’
General Assistance (GA) provides a cash benefit of $203 per month. HF927 makes many disabled people illegible for General Assistance and imposes work or volunteer requirements on the rest. Counties would oversee the work programs.
Weldon testified, “This bill blatantly cuts disabled people, minors, caregivers of severely disabled people and many others from the program. General Assistance is not a supplement to other income, it is all people have. It’s GA or zilch.” Hosmer stated, “Let’s remember who is on GA - people who are elderly, or permanently or temporarily disabled and/or waiting to hear from Social Security about their disability claims. They may have been injured, suffered a heart attack, or stroke, or been diagnosed with a life threatening illness.” As for the work/volunteer requirements, Hosmer pointed out that some counties overseeing the work programs would use them as an excuse to dump people from the program.
Many other cuts to all programs
The attacks on welfare recipients were just part of the bill. 90 people - representatives from grassroots organizations, mental health agencies, schools, churches and faith based organizations, hospitals - signed up to testify, the vast majority against the cuts.
Weldon concluded the WRC testimony with, “You must know that a family of three on MFIP gets only $532 per month - far below the federal poverty level. A disabled person on GA gets a whopping $203 to live on. When we are forced onto assistance, life is already a miserable struggle, 24-7. We don’t need any more idiotic, hate-driven laws to make things even worse.”