Are Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature targeting minority and poor children disproportionately in their proposed budget cuts?
That’s what Democrats whose constituents include those groups alleged Thursday at a press conference at the Capitol.
“The proposed Republican cuts are a direct assault on Minnesota communities of color,” said Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis. “If Minnesota adopts these policies proposed by the Republican majority, children who are poor in Minnesota today will be at greater risk of poverty when they are adults.”
DFL lawmakers highlighted cuts to specific programs that they said would negatively affect nonwhite and poor children included in the budget bills the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Senate have passed thus far, including:
● Elimination of nearly $100 million in school integration aid, of which 40 percent would be absorbed by Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth public school systems with the highest nonwhite student populations.
● Elimination of Community Action grants that help the state’s 39 community action agencies offer Head Start, heating assistance, food shelf and other programs aimed at families facing poverty.
● Elimination of the Community Justice Grant program, which pays for youth crime prevention and deterrence programs that include after-school and summer programs for at-risk youth.
● A 65 percent cut in funding to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
● Elimination of the American Indian Child Welfare program.
● Elimination of the Children and Community Services Act grant program.
● Cuts to the state’s Guardian Ad Litem program aimed at protecting children’s interests in the court system.
The number of Minnesota children living in poverty increased 53 percent in the last decade, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. The number of children living in extreme poverty has doubled since 2000.
The state’s child poverty rate for Asian-Americans is the highest in the nation, and its poverty rate for African-Americans is fifth highest in the country.
“We believe that all children must be given the opportunity to be successful,” said Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul. “Minnesota needs to be given opportunity to succeed, and this means all Minnesota children.”
Republicans rejected the notion that they were targeting minorities and communities of color with their budget cuts, saying programs were being cut and reshaped all across the board.
“We’re eliminating over $100 million in grants (in the Senate Health and Human Services budget),” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “To pick one out and say it’s part of a racist agenda or that we’re working with some ulterior motive is very unfair.”
Hann noted that Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget proposal included several similar funding cuts, yet Democrats are not accusing him of unfairly targeting children.