[Hpn] Welfare Time Limit Repeal bill before Minnesota Legislature (fwd)
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)
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
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.''
**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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