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Bill to double welfare grants in Minnesota clears hurdle

By staff

Members and supporters of Welfare Rights Committee following Senate hearing

St. Paul, MN – The Welfare Rights Committee’s bill to double the welfare grants for poor families in Minnesota cleared a key senate committee March 25. Senators entering the hearing room in the state capitol passed through a crowd of low-income people. Members of the Welfare Rights Committee (WRC) held signs reading, “The rich got bailed out, we got sold out. Raise the MFIP grants,” and “Past due, pass SF432! 29 years is too long to wait.”

Welfare grants in Minnesota have seen an across-the-board increase in 29 years – since 1986. The current cash grants keep families 58% below the federal poverty level.

The WRC’s Darnella Wade testified, “29 years is a long time to fall behind the cost of living. Our country is experiencing hardship, yet in Minnesota there is a surplus. Doubling the grant could allow a family to pay the monthly rent, at best.”

In their testimony, WRC also pointed out that only 28% of TANF – the federal money for welfare that Minnesota gets every year – goes to families in the form of cash. The rest goes to programs that should be state funded. The WRC bill (SF432/HF585) to double the grants would use the federal TANF welfare money and then some.

“The TANF money won’t cover all the cost of funding this bill,” a recent WRC statement notes. “The rest of the funding should come from the budget surplus. That surplus was built on the backs of the poor: 29 years without an increase in MFIP or GA [welfare for families and disabled singles in Minnesota]. Lots of people can’t get any help at all. And the state sits on a surplus of $1.8 billion.”

Other testifiers included the bill’s Senate author, Senator Chris Eaton (D-Brooklyn Center), Sue Watlov Phillips of Integrated Community Solutions and Jessica Anderson of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Darnella Wade concluded her testimony with, “We ask you to contribute back into the working-class families with dependent children in Minnesota. The children are not only my future but they are your future also.”

Besides the WRC bill to double the grants, there is another bill, pushed by the non-profit community, that increases the grants by a flat $100 per family per month. The Welfare Rights Committee position is that both bills should pass. In a March 10 hearing on the smaller bill, WRC’s Linden Gawboy testified, “The grants should be more than doubled to keep up with the cost of living. The $532 cash grant for a family of three should be $1134 today – an increase of 113% since 1986, the last year the grants last went up. So, if we double the grants and do the $100 increase, it would get most families where they ought to be.”

The outcome of the March 25 hearing ensures that the bill to double the welfare grants will be in the financial mix for budget negotiations. After dozens of WRC protests at his office and mansion over the past few years, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal contains the welfare grant increase of $100 per month. Assuming the Senate fights for more, there is a chance for a larger increase.

“We have kept the heat on,” said Gawboy. “Many of the politicians and non-profits are talking a better line now. But we only care about the bottom line. $100 is not enough. We need both. Do the $100 increase and double the grants. 29 years is too long to wait.”

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