This is a version of the testimony that the Welfare Rights Committee delivered at the House Health and Humans Services Finance Committee on March 18, 2014.
Right now we have a crisis situation in Minnesota, it is crisis of unprecedented proportions. This crisis is called EXTREME POVERTY. While POVERTY, in itself, is a crisis, we are here to speak for the tens of thousands of MN children who are living in EXTREME POVERTY. Regular poverty — in itself, creates a danger for children’s health, it denies children housing, it makes children go hungry, it severely affects a child’s chance at education, it makes it impossible for parents to get a job, and it forces parents to make devastating choices between food or housing for their family. EXTREME POVERTY is a poverty where a family’s income is 60-70% BELOW the federal poverty level. EXTREME poverty is a crisis that can actually mean life or death.
This is where the current welfare grant in Minnesota forces 70,000– that’s 70 THOUSAND—Minnesota children to live—-in EXTREME POVERTY.
The last time the welfare grant was increased in Minnesota, was TWENTY EIGHT YEARS AGO—in 1986! Every legislature for the past TWENTY EIGHT YEARS should be wearing a mask of shame.
7 out of 10 who receive welfare in Minnesota… are kids….mostly young kids, they are our children, they are our future. In 1986, a family of two- a mother and child –received $437 dollars a month for welfare. TODAY, in 2014, a mother and child receives $437 dollars a month for welfare.
If you can, just for a moment, just try to imagine trying to support yourself and your child on $437 dollars a month. If you have no subsidized housing, which is the case for 2/3 of the families on welfare, you cannot afford housing. You cannot afford to pay for electricity or water or heat. You are constantly trying to find people to stay with, you are living in a room at a shelter, you are living in a car, if you are lucky enough to have a car. Homelessness is an absolute guarantee.
Imagine you are trying to find a job, while you are constantly looking for shelter- you have no permanent address, you have no phone for prospective jobs to call you, or if you are lucky to have a phone, it is always being disconnected because you need to use that money on more vital needs.
Imagine trying to keep your child in school, and providing an environment for learning when you are constantly changing whose house you are doubled up in, or are living in a shelter, or are on the street. Imagine your child trying to concentrate on learning when he or she may never know where they are staying that night, or what will happen tomorrow.
Imagine when your food stamps for the month run out, which they always do, now you are spending hours a day finding and getting to food shelves, going to soup lines to make sure your child gets a decent meal, or your child is only getting the food at school and goes to bed hungry.
Imagine having to face, every single day, the stress your child is going through, with no guarantees of safety or security, no fun time with friends, no carefree childhood, because every day is filled with uncertainty.
As a parent you will do anything to protect your child. If a landlord offers to give you reduced rent if you give him some special favors, you compromise yourself to give your child a roof over his or her head—and believe me we have heard repeated stories of landlords who will take advantage of women in poverty trying to keep their kids alive. If you are in a domestic violence situation with an abusive partner, you stay there, or you go back to it, because your life is about your child and if you have to get beaten up to keep a roof over your kids head, you do it. Statistics show that around 60% of the mothers who need to be on welfare come from abusive situations. Minnesota’s welfare grants force women to go back to these abusive men.
We hear a whole lot about the need to improve the situation for women. Yet we have heard NOTHING about the need to improve the situation for the poorest of the poorest women- all who are mothers with children–who have been scapegoated, abused and attacked throughout the years. It is a crime, and this state should hang its head in shame for how we have treated poor women. This year we have a huge surplus! While the years of deficits have been taken out on poor families, now that we have a surplus, all we hear about is giving more tax breaks. This is nothing less than criminal and this blatant disregard for human life must stop.
This bill before you does not even come close to making up for 28 years of disregard for Minnesota’s poor families. It is only a beginning. A small increase for families who do not have subsidized housing was passed last year but was delayed until 2015. This bill would move this housing grant up to start this year.
We call on you to pass this bill and start the process. We THEN call on you to bring ALL 70,000 children out of EXTREME poverty –it can be done OVERNIGHT. Right now, only 28% of the FEDERAL TANF dollars that Minnesota receives every year for welfare is actually going directly to the children and parents who need welfare. The rest has been raided to pay for other programs that the state historically covered with general fund dollars. While TANF dollars have been raided, 70,000 Minnesota children have been confined to hunger and homelessness. How could our state do this to children? Do our children not mean just as much as the children of the wealthy and powerful?
Instead of using the surplus to give tax breaks, use the surplus to pay back the TANF funding shift, increase the welfare grants and OVERNIGHT we can END EXTREME POVERTY in Minnesota.
THEN, finally, we can start the important job of ending poverty, period, in Minnesota.