What set Franson off? A brief look at Daudt's HF2080 (and an action against hunger)

It's interesting to observe that amid the furor over Mary Franson's nasty, internet-spawned "ironic" comparison of feeding poor people with food stamps with feeding wild animals in national parks,there's been little to no discussion of the "reforms" in the Daudt bill that Franson used the "joke" to introduce.

Nor of the needs of the people whose hunger was a butt of a tasteless joke. One can petition Franson for a better apology here.

Many of my rural friends think it better to contribute to food shelves in Todd County via the Second Harvest North Central Food Bank (specify in the card that Todd County--part of Franson's district--should get your money) or to those in Douglas and Otter Tail Counties (same drill, though OTC will be served by Franson after the session because of redistricting) via the North Country Food Bank. The Minnesota Food Share March Campaign is underway now.

But food banks are the now permanent temporary emergency stopgap for hunger in America. What discussion should we have beyond our outrage, left and right?

Even after a pseudo-apology and pulling of the Youtube from the MNGOP House caucus, Franson continued to insist that the reforms (carefully excised from the version that the Alliance for a Better Minnesota posted on its petition landing page where people could register outrage via a petition) would increase "self-dependence" which Bluestem takes to be the Franson-speak version of stalwart American virtues like "self-reliance" or "independence."

Nor are left Minnesota bloggers looking at the substance of HF2080. It turns out that Franson isn't a co-sponsor of the measure she adores, but it is indeed the Daudt bill that would limit Minnesota's aid to poor families to three years over a lifetime, rather than the marginally more generous five years allowed under federal TANF, the Clinton-era reforms passed during that more prosperous time in America.

Essentially, Franson believes that three major changes will make those whom she called "the poorest of the poor" self-reliant. The first step is the previously mentioned change in the total length of time that an individual can ever be eligible for benefits under the Minnesota Family Investment Program or MFIP. Three years.

The second is to restrict withdrawal of money via EBT cards to cash machines and vendors outside of Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The food portion can be spent anywhere. This change reflects an earlier Republican witch-hunt that pointed to the spending of a few shekels in Hawaii and elsewhere, though an investigation by MPR failed to turn up any wrongdoing.

The third change is to eliminate the terms under which a person convicted of a drug offense might receive MFIP:

Subdivision 1. Person convicted of drug offenses. (a) Applicants or participants
An individual who have has been convicted of a drug offense committed after July 1, 1997, may, if otherwise eligible, receive MFIP benefits subject to the following conditions: during the previous ten years from the date of application or recertification is disqualified from receiving MFIP.
(1) Benefits for the entire assistance unit must be paid in vendor form for shelter and
utilities during any time the applicant is part of the assistance unit.

The new language strikes out all of the conditions delineated in current law under which a person convicted of a drug offense might receive public assistance. And if a drug offender lives in a "assistance unit," rent and utilities money will go directly to the landlord and the utilities company.

There are also quicker "last chances" in the bill.

Two thoughts. First, while "MFIP ineligibility, sanctions, time limit, and exit level [are] modified; and electronic benefit transfer card [is] regulated," the legislation does not add education, job training, coaching, nutrition or child care instruction or any other sort of program that might help the "poorest of the poor" become financially stable, simply separated from MFIP benefits. 

Yeah, that's a plan.

The second is less obvious. While Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the aid formerly known as food stamps) is part of the benefits that families receive while eligible for MFIP, their eligibility for SNAP doesn't end at 60 months. (Non-working able-bodied adults without dependents are another story, as they are restricted to three months of benefits every 36  months).

In short, nothing in the "reform" Franson was touting would end the poorest of the poor's eligilibility for SNAP.

Seen in this light, her light-hearted delivery of the "ironic" bit is even more senseless and cruel, told less as a caution tale than as the imposition of the insensitive neighborhood jerk whose habitual tastelessness generates the most awkward of moment at barbeques.

And ABM's list-building petition--which addresses the cruelty of the anecdote, but not the brutality of the proposed policy change--also appears to use the poor to the organization's advantage, without actually addressing hunger. It's the kinder, gentler side of the same coin.

Bluestem itself has been guilty of the same practice--though not collecting names for future campaigns--and so offers the opening suggestion to readers who actually want to call Franson's attention to the humanity of hungry people.

And now Franson has shared hateful emails she has received with sympathetic reporters at the Star Tribune, yet another pivot away from the people whose humanity the "ironic" jest and HF2080 erase. 

Give what you can to food banks, and register citizens to vote. It's going to be that sort of an election cycle.

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Sally Jo Sorensen's picture
Sally Jo Sorensen

Sally Jo Sorensen publishes Bluestem Prairie for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser.