Minnesota is no place to be sick and poor


Tough times make it hard enough to live, much less afford health care. Yet, there it is. Everybody needs to be healthy.

President Obama is wrestling with the U.S. Senate over the issue. While they battle it out, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is free and clear to completely ignore low-income taxpayers’ needs.

In his first term, Gov. Pawlenty went after low-income health care with a butcher’s vengeance, slashing programs and clinics left and right. So today, in this jacked-up economy, Minnesotans with shallow pockets have a deeper problem than ever keeping body and breath together. And a word or two to say about it.

Minneapolis freelance writer and consultant Martha Wren (not her real name) holds down a mortgage. In the best of times, that’s saying a lot for an independent wage earner, let alone one with grandchildren in the house and a car to keep up on gas, auto insurance and repairs.

In the best of times, that’s bucking the odds. Nowadays, with small businesses biting the dust left and right, it’s downright miraculous. Especially considering Wren isn’t even White. Women of color, as a Twin Cities daily recently reported, are more and more being bounced off day jobs.

Wren, who’s Native American, hasn’t lost a day of work. That includes Sundays. Drawing on such grit and wit as got her off the streets in her teens and off alcohol as an adult, she’s toughed out a living all her life, holding body and breath together.

In these worst of times, she keeps the work coming in but is running out of financial room in which to move. One casualty is her health care: “Right now,” she says, “the impact of the recession on my health care is the worry that MinnesotaCare will be cut for adults.”

MinnesotaCare, administered through the state’s Department of Human Services, ensures more than a half-million low-income Minnesotans with basic coverage through publicly subsidized assistance programs. So, Martha Wren is far from alone in her concern.

“Then where the hell would I get coverage?” she reasonably wants to know.

Yikes. That is scary.

Plenty frightening to anyone at all lucky enough to earn a living in what we may as well go ahead and call a depression. Terrifying for someone like her, who has severe anemia, diabetes, and a chronic inflammatory disease.

“What I have said is thank God for science and MNCare, because [otherwise] I would be dead. So, right now I just worry about it as I hear about possible cuts to MNCare.”

Paul and Betty Johnson don’t hold down a mortgage. They happily settle for renting an apartment, especially since their lease is reasonably priced–well below what the market place calls affordable.

They live just outside downtown Minneapolis. He commutes to St. Paul, where he’s a handyman at a nonprofit. You name it, he can do it: electrical, plumbing, fix your stove or refrigerator. Not being licensed, though, Paul Johnson doesn’t pull down union wages.

Betty Johnson, after working several jobs including an assembly shop, a fast-food restaurant and a hotel, decided to go for something with better pay. Accordingly, she’s taking time between jobs to attend a trade school and put some more education under her belt. Betty’s looking to get into customer service.

Paul describes a Catch-22 situation: “I don’t make [enough money] to buy medical coverage. I went to welfare for Medicaid, and they turned me down because I make too much money.” So, should he or his wife get seriously ill, they are out of luck.

Betty receives food stamps through next March, but since Paul makes too much money, she can’t get Medicaid either. She looks quite unkindly on Pawlenty’s war against the poor.

“We should get [him] out of office. He’s making it hard for people [like us] to get health coverage. That’s not right. We should be eligible for health coverage, and people who make more than us shouldn’t. He’s got it ass-backward.”

Gov. Pawlenty has heard such criticism, though not so succinctly put, since he began robbing the poor to ease tax burdens for the rich. It rolled off his back then as it does now.

Lesson for today: If you’ve got shallow pockets, don’t get sick in Minnesota.

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to dhobbes@spokesman-recorder.com.