Think back to 1986. Take a moment to remember the days of 93-cent gallons of gas, landlines with answering machines, and bold hairstyles. A lot has changed since then, hasn’t it? The internet, which few people used back then, can be accessed from the smartphone in our pocket. People could smoke on airplanes in 1986; now smoking is banned in nearly every public space.
Unfortunately one thing hasn’t changed in the past 27 years: the amount of assistance given to participants in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). MFIP provides short-term assistance to families in poverty; a household of three receives $532 a month while parents are looking for work or completing school (activities that are required for most MFIP families).
$532 doesn’t buy much these days; inflation has reduced its buying power by half since 1986, when annual per-capita income was $11,670. While MFIP recipients may also be receiving food, health care, or childcare assistance from other programs, $532 usually comprises the majority of their income. The median cost of rent and utilities is now $764, which is over three times what it was in 1986. If MFIP doesn’t even cover the cost of housing, how should families also manage to afford transportation, medical co-pays or school supplies?
Unfortunately it’s the children who suffer most when we don’t modernize our safety-net programs. When those programs still leave kids in poverty, they’re not benefitting from the support as well as they could be. We have plenty of research showing that poverty harms children’s development, health, and education. What we don’t have is the community will to do better by our youngest Minnesotans.
While doubling MFIP assistance to match its 1986 buying power would make an enormous difference for children, that may not be especially realistic in our current political and economic climate. Legislators are currently considering a more modest proposal for an annual cost-of-living adjustment to MFIP that would be indexed to inflation. While the increase won’t immediately lift families out of poverty, it will keep them from falling further behind. That’s the least we can do for our children.