[Hpn] Welfare Time Limit Repeal bill before Minnesota Legislature (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Mon, 19 Feb 2001 13:48:19 -0800 (PST)

Regarding Welfare Reform's impacts, its historical roots, and poor women's roles in Welfare Rights activism, see: "Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and welfare in the United States" by Mimi Abramovitz, Monthly Review Press, New York (Updated editon - 2000) http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/krstpaul/20010216/lo/welfare_time_limit_challenged_ 1.html FWD St. Paul (Minnesota USA) Pioneer Planet - Friday, February 16, 2001 WELFARE TIME LIMIT CHALLENGED SENATE MEASURE SURE TO SPARK DISCUSSION DEBRA O'CONNOR STAFF WRITER A bill introduced in the Senate Thursday would repeal the state's five-year limit on welfare assistance to needy families, and would offer instead a time limit on poverty. Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-Mankato, designed a bill that probably will not pass, but certainly will be noticed. Hottinger doesn't consider his proposal a step back to when families could receive welfare assistance for generations, but rather a reminder of the purpose of the welfare changes made in the mid-1990s. ``The value system we had . . . was that our two-pronged role was to get people off welfare, but more importantly, to get them out of poverty,'' Hottinger said. ``I think the reports we're getting . . . are that we're being more successful than most other states in both areas. But there's always the pressure to put the focus on reducing the numbers, rather than on increasing opportunities.'' The bill's co-sponsors are both Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican legislators, including Sen. Roy Terwilliger, R-Edina; Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis; Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington. Pariseau said Thursday she is having second thoughts about the bill because she thinks it may go too far. No House companion bill has been introduced. Section 1 of the bill reads: ``The state shall set policies and use its resources to put a time limit on poverty, instead of a time limit on assistance for families living in poverty. The state will eliminate the time limit on welfare and ensure that not one child or family living in poverty is without needed assistance. The state shall work to bring all families out of poverty by creating livable wage jobs, affordable housing, affordable child care, affordable education, and health care for all.'' Several years of a strong economy have helped more than 50,000 families leave welfare since Minnesota started its welfare-to-work program in 1997. But there are still many obstacles to the success of low-income families. Minnesota's housing market is one of the tightest in the country, and rents are high even for small apartments. Many of the jobs taken by workers trying to move off welfare don't pay enough to support a family, especially if the family is on the state's long waiting list for state-subsidized child care. And many low-wage jobs don't offer health insurance, adding a further barrier to self-sufficiency. For those who haven't surmounted these obstacles and are still on welfare, time is running out. On July 1, 2002, the five-year limit prescribed by state law will be reached, and unless the law is changed, those who have been receiving benefits for 60 months will be cut off. About 5,000 families, including about 10,000 children, are expected to reach that limit in the following year. The Welfare Rights Committee has long been calling for the abolishment of the time limit. ``It's an easy way to try to force families into doing something they're not able to do, or that is impossible based on conditions outside of ourselves,'' such as expensive housing and low wages, said spokeswoman Deb Konechne. ``These are the problems the state should be dealing with.'' Federal law permits up to 20 percent of the families to stay on welfare if officials decide they have been following the rules but haven't been able to earn enough to leave. Hottinger acknowledges that it's unlikely the state would adopt a system allowing more than 20 percent to stay on welfare, which would result in the loss of federal money. Bills are expected to be introduced soon in the Minnesota Legislature that would extend benefits for a large number of families, especially those with barriers to employment such as mental or physical disabilities. Gov. Jesse Ventura's budget proposes using $36 million in federal money to extend the limit. That plan is expected to be challenged by legislators who want to make exceptions to the five-year rule only in a few individually considered cases. Hottinger points out that even in criminal sentencing, judges usually have the flexibility to look at individual circumstances. ``You need some sort of standard by which you are going to be measured if you're going to receive assistance, but that's different. I'm not against the standard,'' he said. ``But an arbitrary timeline is just not the rational way to do it. What's important to me is injecting into this discussion the values questions.'' 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