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Benefits stuck in 1986: Minnesota’s children deserve better

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.

Mary Turck
Mary Turck

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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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 02/10/2016 - 11:20 am.

    The best welfare for both Jessica amd Kim would be a good paying job. Let’s work on bringing better jobs for lower to middle class folks so they can get off welfare.

    Note to young ladies don’t have children with drug addicts or alcoholics, it will lead you into a life like Jessica has. There are conciquences to decisions you make, so make good decisions. Every one wants to help folks caught in tough life situations, nobody wants to help folks who continuously make poor decisions.

    • Submitted by Sean O'Brien on 02/11/2016 - 02:15 pm.

      Poor Decisions

      Yeah, c’mon people – stop making those poor decisions like being born into poverty, having abusive parents, and attending failing schools.

      Can’t you find your own bootstraps???

      • Submitted by joe smith on 02/11/2016 - 10:23 pm.

        Where is it written that if you are born into a tough situation like poverty you must have children who’s father is a drug addict? Take some personal responsibility foe your decisions please.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/10/2016 - 02:51 pm.

    Let’s See How This Divides Out

    The approximate cost of bringing aid up to equal what it was in 1986 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) would be $39.5 million.

    With Minnesota’s population at about 5.5 million that would amount to $7.18 apiece.

    It seems to me that this amount would be worth it to help parents and children who are temporarily in need of such aid,…

    (and the vast majority of those parents and children are only temporarily in need),…

    and to help make sure the next generation has a chance at being raised in stable homes with sufficient food, adequate health care, adequate child care, etc.,..

    because if they DON’T have that chance, it’s very likely they will not do well in school,…

    nor will they do well in life.

    They’ll be far more likely to need government aid as adults.

    To oppose such increases in aid is the very definition of penny wise and pound foolish.

    As Wisconsin and Kansas have so clearly proven,…

    the citizens of a state can cost themselves a very great deal in terms of income, available jobs, and quality of life,…

    by electing cheapskates who promise to keep their taxes low,…

    (and the taxes of those politicians’ wealthy friends who pay for their campaigns MUCH lower).

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