Welfare rights group pleads for Minnesota cash assistance increases

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Since 1986, cash payments to the poorest of the state’s poor have not increased. Welfare advocates say they have a plan that would double payments without costing more money. However, it would mean shifting funds from other welfare programs in order to raise cash payments.

The state receives federal block grants, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and combines them with state funds to operate the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Its purpose is to provide temporary cash and food assistance to families with children under age 18. A family of two, one adult and one child, is eligible for $437 per month.

If those funds were not also used to run other programs, such as child care assistance and a working family tax credit, cash payments could increase significantly, said Deb Konechne, a member of the Welfare Rights Committee.

“We’re not asking for additional federal or state spending, just use the funds for their intended use,” Konechne told the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee on Wednesday.

The child care assistance and working family tax credits are permissible uses of TANF funds, but welfare advocates said those programs should have alternative funding methods. MFIP clients are limited to a maximum of 60 months assistance during a lifetime.

Child care is an integral part of the state’s strategy to help families work toward or to obtain sustainable income and remain off welfare. MFIP recipients who search for work or attend school are eligible to receive child care assistance.

“This is a situation that direly needs our attention,” Rep. Carolyn Laine (DFL-Columbia Heights) said.

Rep. Patti Fritz (DFL-Faribault) said an additional $437 a month would make a huge impact for clients in her “neck of the woods” who don’t have access to public transportation.

“Poor children and their parents are not the problem in this state. These are families who very much want to get out of poverty. I certainly hope that, while we’re not going to fix everything, I think we’re going to do our best to make the lives of these folks better and help them get out of poverty and get on their feet and enjoy the kinds of things all Minnesotans should enjoy,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester).