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Commissioner of Human Services Confronted!

by staff |
January 4, 1999
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St. Paul, MN - Low income people from cities across Minnesota confronted Commissioner Dave Doth, of the Department of Human Services on December 11. Leaders of the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition told Doth, that Minnesota's new welfare program, MFIP-S is a disaster for poor people. Demands were placed on the Department, which is responsible for the state's welfare programs.

Doth, an appointee of ex-Governor Carlson was one of the main architects of Minnesota's current welfare system. He agreed to meet with the Coalition after chanting protesters filled the lobby of the Human Services Building in mid-November.

Doth, who was visibly enraged throughout much of the meeting, was forced to act on some of Coalition's demands.

A statement by protest organizers said, "In the end, the Commissioner agreed... to send a letter telling job counselors to stop lying and abusing us, and to stop doing illegal actions against us. He would not guarantee he would tell the truth to legislators or work to undo harmful parts in MFIP-S." Doth also agreed to some of the demands relating to the need to investigate the problems with MFIP-S.

Much of the meeting was devoted to reports on how the new welfare program is impacting on Minnesota's low income community, and the pattern of abuse that people on public assistance are getting from case workers and county-contracted job counselors

Kathy Krueger of Minnesotans United for Social Justice in St. Cloud told Commissioner Doth that the MFIP-S program in Stearns and Benton Counties is "failing miserably." She continued, "Job Counselors are constantly threatening families with sanctions, and are not telling us what our rights are. Job counselors are lying and forcing us out of school by telling us that if we are in school, we still have to do 35 hours a week of job search on top of school with no additional child care. Education plans are only being approved if they are six months or less."

Dawn Leahy of Working Poor of Mankato reported that in Blue Earth County people are not being told about education and ESL (English as a Second Language). "Job counselors are shoving people who do not speak English into jobs without the option of ESL. In both Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties, women are not being told about domestic abuse waivers. If women know about the waivers for domestic abuse, they are being turned down, or are being shamed out of the waiver." Leahy stated that practically no waivers have been granted in the two counties and that this practice is pushing women back to their abusers.

Sharon Luukonen of Miikana Bimaadiziwin, an organization of low income Native people based in the Iron Range city, Virginia, co-chaired the meeting. She told Doth of the severe shortage of livable wage jobs that can support a family in Northern Minnesota.

Marvella Davis, of Low Income People Organizing for Power of Duluth said that in St. Louis County, MFIP-S is "keeping people in poverty instead of getting people out of poverty." Davis reported that "parents are being told to quit school and get any job instead. People with disabilities are being forced to find jobs. Parents who have gotten jobs are getting low wages, around $6 an hour, and are not making enough to survive."

Nafeesah McRenolds of the Welfare Rights Committee-Minneapolis/St. Paul gave Doth a reality check of how sanctions are affecting families. McRenolds related how sanctions are pushing families into more poverty, are causing homelessness and taking food away from children, and are adding extreme stress to families already in crisis.

A statement sent from Bemidji cited the lack of information given to women regarding safety plans. Women in shelters for domestic abuse are being thrown into work and training requirements, causing great difficulties and potentially forcing them back to their abusers.

At the end of the meeting, Leahy urged Commissioner Doth to "consider this an emergency! If this was a fire, you wouldn't stand around waiting until the house burned down! Crimes against the people are happening right now, even as we speak. So the sooner you get moving, the fewer the casualties we'll have."