Welfare Bills – March

Here is the press release we put out before one of the hearings on the welfare bills:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3-12-2009

House Republicans Attack the Poor. Welfare Rights to Speak Out Against Discrimination
and Speak FOR the Bills to Help MN Families!

On Thursday, March 12, 2:30 p.m., members of the Welfare Rights Committee will hold a brief press conference outside of room 200 of the State Office Building to speak out against three Republican-sponsored bills that are outright attacks on poor families in Minnesota. At 2:45 a hearing will be held on those bills, as well as on positive bills that will help MN families in this time of economic crisis.

The attack bills
HF 646 (Seifert)
HF 646 does several things, ranging from the discriminatory to the ridiculous.
— For one, HF 646 makes it so MFIP benefits cannot be drawn out as cash. It forces the use of the “EBT” card, which requires a special EBT machine for all purchases and payments. This is utterly impractical, given that you can’t use an EBT card in many business situations. Furthermore, this would make it so we couldn’t even keep a checking account or have a debit card. Here is just a start of a list of things you can’t  use the EBT card for: postage stamps, bus fare, fees for kids’ school events, medical and childcare co-pays, keeping a checking account, coins for laundry, paying utility bills, paying your rent, paying a fine, most clothing and non-food stores, parking meters…it’s easy to get the picture.
— Second, HF 646 does not allow an EBT card to be used out of state. Heaven forbid your grandfather dies. Also, you can’t visit your brothers, sisters, children’s parent or other service people at the out-of-state military base while they in between their tours of Iraq or Afghanistan.
— In any case, prohibiting how we spend our money – versus how the unemployed on UI, the veterans, the elderly the disabled, the JOBZ recipients, the legislators and many others – spend their state money is discrimination against the poor.

HF 272 (Shimanski)
HF 272 requires fingerprint scanning upon applying for any MN public assistance program, including folks going into nursing homes. It will touch almost everyone in Minnesota, whether we get help with medical, child support, nursing homes, welfare, elder services and the list goes on. Besides the “Big Brother” aspect, the cost of this bill would be huge – but it should be noted that the author handily allows a private contactor to make a profit on the scheme. This bill is creepy.

HF 1036 (Seifert attacks again)
HF 1036 mandates that new residents of MN get the benefit level that is in place in the state they lived in before (unless it was higher in the other state). This will result in a court case; it’s an infringement on our right to travel. The benefit levels in MN are already so low that virtually everyone on General Assistance or MFIP is homeless. No one moves for the “welfare;” we move for jobs, family or a better life. Finally, the courts have ruled many times that measures like this are unconstitutional and the authors of the bill know it.

The sensible bills:

HF 577 (Hosch):
Repeals the $50 per month cut to the cash MFIP grant that affects families living in subsidized housing. This cut was imposed by Pawlenty during the budget crisis of 2003. It is bad for the affected families, bad for the stock of affordable housing and bad for agencies that administer subsidized housing. Most families on MFIP, unless we get subsidized housing, are essentially homeless (usually doubling or tripling up). $50 might not seem like much to many people, but considering that a mother and child is expected to live on $437 per month (an amount that has not been increased since 1986), $50 is a huge, huge amount.

HF 453 (Fritz):
This bill does three things.
— Puts a two-year moratorium on the welfare time limit. MFIP parents are generally the “last hired” at a workplace, which means we are the first let go. Because of this, many cannot build up enough quarters to qualify for unemployment. Parents are forced back onto MFIP – burning up their 5-year lifetime limit in this impossible job market.
— Gets rid of the family cap. This, too was put into law during the budget crisis of 2003. The family cap means the welfare grant does not increase when a baby is born. Face it; the grant would go up by $87 per month by the addition of a baby; anyone can see that (contrary to the right-wing fools’ banter)  no one on welfare ‘plots’ to have a baby for the cash. This cut punishes babies for being born. Babies are to be cherished, not punished.
— Gets rid of the $7000 food stamp “asset limit.” Few states have an “asset limit” for food stamps. As the economy sours, more and more formerly middle-income people will need food assistance. No one should have to sell the tools they need for employment or cash out their life insurance policy to qualify for the meager help that food stamps provide.

The Welfare Rights Committee bills are just a part of what needs to be done during this economic crisis. That is why we are part of the People’s Bailout Coalition, which calls for Jobs or Income Now and declares that Housing is a Right.

We reject the governor’s plan to balance the budget on the backs of poor and working people…again. The wealthy have enjoyed years of tax breaks. What did the rich, the cheating banks and corporations do while they were getting their tax breaks and perks? They ran this economy into the ground, causing suffering all around. It’s time for them to pay.