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MN Poor Say: Make The Rich Pay

By Deb Konechne

Protest in capitol rotunda. Floor littered with thousands of paper dolls

Minneapolis, MN – “Not one dime in cuts to poor and working people! Make the rich pay for the budget crisis!” is the rallying cry of Minnesota's low-income families. As Minnesota faces a massive budget deficit, the Welfare Rights Committee is gearing up to go head to head with state politicians.

“We know that these politicians are already scheming to balance their budget on our backs,” said Kim DeFranco of the Welfare Rights Committee. “We live in one of the richest states of one of the richest countries in the world. Yet, when the crunch comes down, they want to make the poor and working people pay for the crisis.”

Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura announced that the state budget deficit will run as high as $3 billion. About 40 other states are facing huge budget deficits, too.

“We're already living in crisis. Why should we pay for theirs?” asked WRC's Dede Francis. “Minnesota politicians say we all have to suffer a little. We're already suffering too much. It's not that we all must 'tighten our belts.' The rich and the rest of us are not in the same boat. Let the rich tighten their belts for a change.”

In the last legislative session, Minnesota faced a budget deficit of $2 billion. Legislators used the budget reserve and accounting tricks, as well as some cuts to human services programs and public employees, to pay for the deficit. House Republicans tried to cut medical care and emergency assistance for poor people, but were defeated. In the upcoming legislative session, however, there will be no more reserves or accounting games to use.

“Politicians have a choice – raise taxes or make cuts,” said Linden Gawboy. “We say there are plenty of people and corporations in this state with plenty of money, who got plenty of tax breaks over the years. Politicians should tax the rich instead of hurting poor and working families.”

Five-Year Time Limit Hits Minnesota Families in Time of Recession

On July 1, Minnesota families started to hit Minnesota's five-year limit on welfare. As of October, hundreds of Minnesota families have been cut off welfare. Hundreds more are hitting the time limit and facing cuts each month. Most of those cut off are children.

The Welfare Rights Committee has been fighting against the time limit since it was passed into law. In the 2001 and 2002 legislative sessions, the WRC had bills to repeal the time limit and put a moratorium on the time limit. The moratorium bill passed through the Senate and was a part of the entire budget debate in conference committee. In the end, House Republicans refused to go along with the Senate position in support of a moratorium.

“When the Minnesota government failed to undo the five year lifetime limit on public assistance, they created a non-ending crisis for poor families.” said Angel Buechner. “Already, over 1,200 children have hit the time limit and been cut off survival assistance. This means thousands of Minnesota kids and their caregivers are facing homelessness and hunger.”

According to WRC's Trishalla Bell, “Putting a time limit on survival assistance is a crime even in good economic times. Now we're suffering from a major recession. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in Minnesota over the past months. When we're trying to get off welfare, we're the last hired and the first fired.”

The 2001 legislature passed into law some 'hardship extensions' to the time limit. For now, about half of the families hitting the time limit are receiving extensions. Members of the Welfare Rights Committee say that these extensions are not enough. For example, except for the severely disabled, parents have to be working at paid employment for at least 20 hours per week in order to get an extension for their families – a catch-22 which leaves many families cut off. Also, individual counties grant extensions at different rates, pointing to discrimination in the system.

“We won many extensions to the limit, but that's not enough. If even one family is cut off the survival lifeline, it is one too many,” said WRC's Kim Hosmer.

Low-Income Families Gear Up for Battle at the State Legislature

Low-income families are preparing for the 2003 legislative session, which starts on Tuesday, Jan. 7. The Welfare Rights Committee, along with other organizations, will begin the session with a protest at the State Capitol on opening day.

“If Minnesota lawmakers think we are going to just stand by and let them attack us, they've got another thing coming!” declared Bell. She continued, “They're throwing our kids into the street. They're taking food out of our babies' mouths. Now they want to solve the budget deficit they created by cutting us more. We're ready to do battle. Poor and working people are fed up. Our demands are clear. Stop the time limits. Not one dime of cuts. Make the rich pay!”

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