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Battle Over "Welfare Reform" Continues In Minnesota

by Mick Kelly |
April 13, 1999
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St. Paul, MN - "We have forced the politicians to re-open the debate on 'welfare reform,'"; stated Deb Konechne of the Minnesota Welfare Rights Coalition (MN-WRC). At a March 5 press conference, she noted that most politicians and the media thought welfare was a dead issue this legislative session. Instead, poor people from around the state made it clear that Minnesota's new welfare law, MN Families Investment Plan (MFIP) is a disaster, and legislation has been advanced to deal with some of its worst parts.

MFIP is a Disaster!

On March 5, poor people from across Minnesota arrived at the Capitol to pack a meeting of the Senate Health and Family Security Committee. The huge line of people waiting to get to the hearing carried signs demanding that politicians undo the attacks on welfare. "The politicians and welfare officials say MFIP is working fine, but low income people know that's a lie and today we're going to say so," said Konechne.

Once the inside, members of the MN-WRC testified, blasting the abuses that have come with the new welfare law. Coalition spokesperson Deb Howze stated, "When the federal government passed the welfare reform law, they declared a war on the poor. When Minnesota politicians went along with this law, and came up with MFIP, they condemned poor Minnesotans to more poverty, hunger, and homelessness."

Howze also noted that people were systematically being forced into an immediate 30 hours per week job search, and not allowed the chance to get an education. The law allows for an education option, but in practice this is not happening. Federal law says that 30% of the case load can be in education or training programs, but in Minnesota the figure is 8%.

Chee Her testified through a translator, "I went and met with my job counselor and she told me to find a job. I told her I don't know how to read or write English. How about helping me to find an education and I will come back and find a job. She told me, stupid people like me and as old as I am, education is not for me."

Chee Her also related that while pregnant, the job counselor ignored letters from her doctor stating that she should not be forced into work. Continuing her testimony she said, "If I'm forced to go to work, I would be forced to have my baby before the time. The counselor refused to listen to my plea." The counselor then sanctioned Her, cutting the amount of assistance that she could receive.

Danni Haden, of Low Income People Organizing for Power, Duluth, testified, "I was in school, vocational school, and they do not recognize that... I was sanctioned and denied food stamps because of that education."

Nafeesah McRenolds, a member of the Twin Cities-based Welfare Rights Committee told how the grant-cutting sanctions had "pushed me and my family over the edge. I am now on the brink of losing my home... Right now I am living off 69 dollars a month in food stamps with no cash for my family of four."

Bills Introduced

A serious battle to deal with some of the worst aspects of the welfare system is under way. Some of the legislation brought forward by the MN-WRC deals with the right to education, ending sanctions, and stopping the five-year life-time limit for families on public assistance. The Coalition is also backing bills that continue food stamps for immigrants, and a repeal of the 100-dollar cut to public assistance for those in public housing.

"It's clear that MFIP isn't serving us," said Linden Gawboy of the MN-WRC. "We have gotten that out in a big way, and the poor bashers in the legislature and Department of Human Services are on the defensive. But reality is, some reactionary politicians like Senator Samuelson won't sleep at night until every poor person has been pushed into the streets. We will fight them every step of the way, this year, next year, as long as it takes."

All Out for April 23!

The MN-WRC is calling a Rally for Justice at the State Capitol on April 23. Tens of thousands of flyers are being distributed at the welfare offices, housing projects, and shelters across Minnesota, calling on low income people to "Tell Governor Ventura and politicians what poor families need."

"On April 23, we will once again drive home the message that MFIP is pushing us deeper into poverty. Every senator, representative, and Governor Ventura are going to get the message: Without justice, there will not be a moment of peace," said Gawboy.