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Minnesota's Poor Say: Make the Rich Pay for the Budget Crisis!

By Deb Konechne

Kids holding protest signs at capitol

Minneapolis, MN – Minnesota's poor are going on the offensive against budget cuts and welfare cut-offs. Faced with a $4 billion budget shortfall, politicians want to balance the budget on the backs of poor and working people. Organizers of the Minneapolis-St. Paul based Welfare Rights Committee have announced plans for hard hitting demonstrations under the slogans, ‘No cuts to poor and working people. Stop the welfare cut-offs,” and ‘Make the rich pay for the crisis.'

“Why should the rich gain and poor people feel the pain?” said Deb Howze of the Welfare Rights Committee.

Budget Crisis

Politicians from both political parties are pushing the idea that everyone needs to sacrifice because of the economic crisis. Newly elected Governor Pawlenty and republican legislators are trying to create a political climate where social services are placed on the chopping block.

Last year, House republicans tried balance the budget by eliminating General Assistance and General Assistance Medical Care – the only programs available to poor individuals who are unable to work – and to eliminate Emergency Assistance to poor families and people in crisis. Those attacks were defeated.

Over the past decade, Minnesota politicians have systematically lowered taxes for the rich and their corporations. This set the stage to allow the current economic downturn to turn a large budget surplus into one of the largest state budget deficits ever.

A Welfare Rights Committee statement makes the case: “Minnesota gave out the largest tax cuts in the entire United States for three of the last five years. 53% of Minnesota's budget surplus went to tax rebates and permanent tax cuts. This adds up to about $9.5 billion dollars of the Minnesota surplus that was squandered for tax cuts and rebates in the last four years. We all know that these cuts and rebates go disproportionately to the rich. Money going into the pockets of the rich contributed to the budget deficit we are facing today. Now it is their turn to pay.”

During the time of state surplus, health and human services got almost nothing. Because lawmakers stole federal welfare dollars from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to replace state spending, the Department of Health and Human Services was the only department that actually contributed to the surplus.

Rich Must Pay

“Those with the most ability to pay should pay for the budget crisis,” said Trishalla Bell of the Welfare Rights Committee. “They should cut from the corporate welfare, not from the human services that serve our families.”

WRC's Kim Hosmer slammed the idea that rich and poor alike should sacrifice. “It's a whole different thing for someone who has enough money to play the stock market and who can afford to lose on the stock market than it is for those of us who barely have enough money to pay rent and keep food on the table!”

The failure of the Minnesota legislature to deal with time limits on welfare has created a crisis of huge proportions. Nearly 2000 children have been cut off of welfare and are facing homelessness because of the time limit.

The Welfare Rights Committee is pushing legislation that would stop the welfare cut-offs. A major demonstration will coincide with the opening of the legislature. Poor people from around the state will lay siege to the hearings where the budget cuts are debated.

Gillie Townsend states that Minnesota's low-income community will “let the politicians know that this is a crisis for poor people. The politicians are making the rich richer every day and making the poor poorer!”

“The more we stand up for our rights, the more we are heard. People make power,” says WRC member, Jamila Vance.

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