St. Paul, MN - The Minnesota government shutdown ended July 20 at 9:00 a.m., after Governor Mark Dayton signed a slew of budget bills - the biggest ones passed in the wee hours of that same morning. Many say that Gov. Dayton compromised too much and too soon, leaving poor and working people paying the price for the $5.2 billion budget deficit.
On July 14, Gov. Dayton proclaimed that he would accept a previous Republican budget offer, in order to end the shutdown. Before that, Dayton had already given up on many proposals to tax the rich in Minnesota, even though he campaigned on increasing taxes to the wealthy as a way to solve the deficit.
It is broadly acknowledged that the budget signed into law on July 20 relies on unprecedented amounts of borrowing. Less publicized is reliance on taking money from dedicated funds for the poor.
Secret deal: $58 million from the poorest of the poor
Most of the issues that involve programs for poor people are in the Health and Human Services bill. The 286-page HHS bill is the most complex of the budget bills. It is full of references to various laws and hard to follow. The government did not make the bill available to the public until the session was six hours along, only a few hours before it was voted on. As an example of the difficulty of the bill, the plain English ‘summary’ of the HHS bill had dozens of items such as: “[section] 27 - Citizenship requirements. Amends § 256B.06, subd. 4.” And that was it.
However, for some programs, the spreadsheets made it clear. “No wonder they didn't release the HHS budget until late in the night of the Special Session, July 19. The spreadsheets show a total theft of $58 million from TANF funds over the biennium,” says a statement issued by the Welfare Rights Committee.
TANF is the federal money that goes to states for welfare for families. In Minnesota, welfare grants put families 60% below the federal poverty line. The Welfare Rights Committee has fought for years against the state stealing TANF money, under the slogan, “TANF money for TANF families.” The 2011 theft of TANF money is one of the largest in history.
Welfare Rights Committee takes action
Since July 1 the WRC held many call-in campaigns to Gov. Dayton, demanding that he not give in to certain Republican cuts to welfare and insisting that they a tax on the wealthy. The call was, “Tax the rich or shut the government down!”
Late at night on July 18, Dayton abruptly announced that the Capitol building would open up the next day. Welfare Rights Committee members were there at 8:45 a.m., July 19, holding signs that read, “Vote no on the Dayton/G.O.P Budget. Tax the rich.” They met Minnesota legislators as the capitol doors opened for the first time in 19 days. The capitol complex’s buildings had been closed to the public since July 1, when the government shutdown went into effect.
“I was in the last group of people the cops pushed out of the capitol June 30,” says the Welfare Rights Committee’s Kim DeFranco. “I’m glad WRC was there to be the first at the re-opening.”
On the same day the capitol re-opened, Governor Dayton announced a special session for 3:00 p.m. Most of the bills that were to be taken up were not available to the public (or to most legislators) in paper or electronic form. Welfare Rights Committee members mobilized to be outside the doors of the House and Senate chambers with “Vote no” signs as the legislators filed in.
Budget deal aftermath
Much of the budget and how it will play out still needs to be analyzed. But there is general agreement that poor and working people, the elderly and disabled, and students from pre-K to college will be suffering from the cuts.
The ‘financing’ of the budget deal will make trouble down the road. Once money is taken away for the poor, it’s hard to get back. Angel Buechner, of the Welfare Rights Committee said, "This budget deal just sets us up for more cuts to the poor next year."