Freddy* worked all of his adult life, primarily in factory jobs – until he developed glaucoma. He has lost 35% of his eyesight, is unable to work and must turn to the state’s General Assistance program for $203 a month, while the two-year process of determining his eligibility for federal disability support moves through the system.
Angie* has gone through intensive therapy for disabilities caused by anti-psychotic medication used to treat her mother before doctors realized she was pregnant. Angie is an adult now and able to walk and talk, but still suffers seizures and developmental delays. She is also the mother of three-year old twins, whom she is raising thanks to support services. Angie and her children live on a combination of her disability income and their state assistance that totals less than $14,000 a year.
Gregg* is the CEO of a major Minnesota corporation. He earned $25.2 million last year.
Guess who the Minnesota Legislature thinks should solve our state’s $5 billion deficit?: Freddy and Angie, and others in similar situations – the poorest and the sickest. They are the ones to solve a shortfall caused by the economic downturn that has left the state short of revenue.
The legislature proposes eliminating General Assistance for adults who are unemployable because of disability or incapacitating illness. Instead counties would be left to decide whether to provide any assistance to these adults with block grants that total $20 million less than the state currently invests.
The legislature has also unveiled a proposal to cut assistance to very poor families with disabled parents by $50 a month — $600 a year. These are families like Angie’s in which the parent is so severely disabled that the federal government has designated him or her unemployable. Because the disabled parent receives federal disability support of $600-$700 a month, she doesn’t receive any state assistance. But her children do: they are the ones who are asked to give up the $50 a month.
The rhetoric packaging these cuts is that Minnesota’s “welfare benefits” are too generous. But data from the National Association of State Budget Officers shows that the proportion of Minnesota’s spending on social services is a little less than the national average.
So why do we have to resort to pushing more people, especially those with disabilities, into homelessness and deep poverty? Because the legislative leadership has announced that raising taxes – especially taxes on people like CEO Gregg – is off limits in addressing this budget shortfall.
But the lifeline – as meager as it is – for Freddy and Angie, apparently, isn’t off limits.
Deborah Schlick is the executive director of the Affirmative Options Coalition, a coalition of non-profits and faith-based groups that advocates for effective anti-poverty policies.
* Freddy, Angie and Gregg are actual people. First names only are used to protect their privacy.