Jessica is a young mom, who lived in foster care most of her teen years. She has two young children, both in diapers and is separated from the father of her children because of his drug and alcohol use. He recently went through treatment. Jessica was on maternity leave when she separated from him, and lost her job when she found herself the sole caregiver for the two young children.
— Minnesota TANF task force report
For now, Jessica relies on MFIP and SNAP — more commonly known as welfare and food stamps. Each month, she and her children get $532 in MFIP benefits and $473 in SNAP benefits, which can be used only for food.
Jessica owns her mobile home, so her lot rent payment is $330 a month. But the cost of baby supplies, which is not covered by food support, and utilities, means that there is no money left at the end of the month, and will likely fall behind on utilities again.
Most of the people receiving MFIP benefits are children. Most of the children, like Jessica’s, are under the age of 6. They need our support. But Minnesota has not increased MFIP benefits since 1986.
A recent report [PDF] by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid explains the consequences of that 30-year freeze:
Thirty years ago, the federal minimum wage was $3.35 and the federal poverty line was about $9,120 for a family of three. … Even as the cost of living has gone up, the basic resource Minnesota provides for families who hit hard times has stayed frozen in place. Today more than 64,000 low-income children are affected by this 30 year delay in adjusting the amount to reflect current economic realities. If adjusted for inflation, $532 in 1986 could buy the equivalent of $1,148 of goods and services in 2016.
Benefits are higher in Wisconsin and in South Dakota than in Minnesota.
While Jessica owns a mobile home, other MFIP families rent apartments. The MFIP cash assistance amount is not enough to pay for an apartment, even without considering costs of clothing for children or a telephone. Besides those bare essentials, MFIP parents are required to work or to actively look for work. That means adding transportation costs, and sometimes child care costs.
Kim is a mother of one living in central Minnesota who recently lost her server job when the restaurant she was working at abruptly closed. Turning to MFIP, Kim’s family receives a $437 cash benefit which doesn’t meet her rent of $752, not to mention her utility bills, transportation costs and other basic living needs. Kim is trying to find employment by using a temp agency, however, this work is unpredictable, sporadic and provides shift‐work in the mornings, afternoon and nights, which makes finding child care extremely difficult. To make matters worse, Kim’s car recently broke down and [she] is unable to pay the $300 it will cost to fix her car so she can get to work.
MFIP is supposed to be there to help people struggling to get back to work, get back to self-sufficiency. MFIP is supposed to be the safety net for Minnesota’s families and, especially, for Minnesota’s children. The holes in that safety net are big and growing bigger.
In 2014, the Legislature ordered a task force to look at the MFIP program and the federal block grant program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Jessica and Kim’s stories are part of that task force report. The task force recommended increasing MFIP benefits immediately by about $100 a month, and making a plan for cost-of-living increases in the future.
Last year, a bill that would raise benefits by $100 per month passed the Senate, but not the House. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, and by Rep. Mary Franzen, R-Alexandria, is still pending. It can be passed in the legislative session that begins March 8.
Minnesota’s children need our support. Contact your legislators and tell them to support increasing MFIP grants. An increase is long overdue.
Mary Turck, who writes the News Day blog, edited Twin Cities Daily Planet from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. This commentary was originally published on News Day.
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