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MN Senate committee votes to double welfare grants

By staff |
March 4, 2013
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Members and supporters of Welfare Rights Committee outside Senate Committee hear
Members and supporters of Welfare Rights Committee outside Senate Committee hearing on upping Minnesota welfare grants. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

St. Paul, MN – A bill to double the welfare grants moved closer to passage, March 4, when members of the Senate Health, Human Services, and Housing policy committee passed Senate File 165. The bill doubles the cash grants for people receiving public assistance through the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP).

Welfare cash grants have not gone up since 1986 – 27 years ago. Since 1986 the cost of living has more than doubled.

Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee told Senate Committee members, “In 1986, a family of two - a parent and a child - received $437 dollars per month in cash to live on. Today in 2013, an MFIP family of two still receives $437. This adds up to $5244 dollars a year. If calculated per day, this means two people receive $14.57 a day. Remember, this is the total amount of money to pay for rent, utility bills, phone, children’s school costs, transportation costs, clothes, hygiene, household supplies, laundry costs, additional food costs when food stamps run out, and for gas, insurance and car repairs if lucky enough to have a car - everything for the entire family.”

The money to increase the grants is available. Since 1997, after the federal welfare reform act, Minnesota has received at least $264 million per year in the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant. However, since 1997, millions have been diverted from TANF for other things. For example, in 2012, only 27% of the yearly federal TANF funds went to cash grants for Minnesota families in poverty. If the TANF money was used for TANF families, there would be enough money to nearly double the grants.

Urging support for the legislation, Linden Gawboy of the Welfare Rights Committee testified, “Especially in these tough economic times, welfare is a working person’s issue. When Unemployment Insurance runs out, parents are shocked to find out that they still don’t qualify for MFIP, because they are ‘not poor enough.’ In most cases, it is the unemployment insurance for poor families and those of us who have no choice but to work seasonal jobs and temporary jobs. When we don’t have enough work quarters to qualify for unemployment, welfare is the last stop to receive any type of help.”

Bernie Hess, of the United Food and Commercial Workers 789; Alexandra Fitzsimmons of the Children’s Defense Fund; Kris Jacobs of Jobs NOW; Sue Watlov Phillips of Integrated Community Solutions, and WRC members Ebony Harris and Lena Buggs also testified in support of doubling the welfare grants.

Since July, the Welfare Rights Committee has been organizing for a bill to increase welfare grants in Minnesota. Hundreds of people have sent multiple postcards to the governor and legislators calling for increasing the grants. Dozens of organizations have signed on to support the cause. Several MN legislators declare that they will participate in the ‘$437 Challenge’ - attempting to live on what an MFIP family has to live on - for at least a week.

For more information, and to sign on to the campaign to increase the welfare grants, go to WelfareRightsMN.com.

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