Death by a Thousand Cuts

How does Minnesota's fresh-minted 2003 budget make this a meaner place? Let us count the ways

A freshly instated cap on emergency assistance programs--a fund used more than 6,000 times in an average month to help families facing eviction, utilities shut-off, or some other crisis--will save another $16 million. The state is likewise trimming another $1.6 million by reducing the income ceiling for welfare participants from 120 percent to 115 percent of the federal poverty standard.

And in perhaps the most outrageous gambit of the entire budget, the state is cutting welfare assistance by $125 a month for every MFIP family member with serious enough disabilities to qualify for Supplemental Security Income from the federal government. Because 17 percent of the families have at least one person getting SSI, this "penalize the disabled" provision saves the state a cool $22 million over the next two years.

Had the state chosen to use that money to build affordable housing for welfare recipients--extending the $24.5 million in one-time funding it provided the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency last biennium--its action might have been deemed defensible. Instead, legislators cut $4.4 million (18.5 percent) from MHFA's housing challenge program, which will halt the construction and rehabilitation of 418 units of affordable housing for low- and middle-income families.

In addition, another $2.6 million in funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing was not renewed, halting the construction of 252 beds that would have helped mitigate the needs of the state's burgeoning homeless population. In all, the final budget cuts $9.6 million in funding for nine different MHFA programs.

Effective advocates for the poor are a dying breed in state government--and their path to extinction will be further greased by a cut of $3.1 million in Legal Aid funding.


Severing the Bootstraps

The state has also cut millions of dollars from Adult Basic Education and Adult Graduation Aid.

After School Enrichment Grants, which combined community and education resources for out-of-school programs tailored to "at-risk" youth who were struggling in the classroom, have been eliminated at a savings of $11 million.

Youthworks, a program that provides educational scholarships and tutoring in exchange for community service, has been cut nearly 50 percent.

Economic Opportunity Grants, which allow 40 community action agencies to help 750,000 low-income people attain the skills and knowledge to become more self-sufficient, have been substantially reduced.

The Job Skills Partnership, which helps schools and businesses develop specific training programs for people on public assistance to get a job, endured a minor cut.

Minnesota YouthBuild, the Minnesota Youth Program, Learn to Earn, and the Youth Intervention Program--all designed to help disadvantaged, underemployed youth become self-sufficient-- have had their funding cut to varying degrees.

The Independent Living Services for the Disabled has been drastically cut.

Funding for the Self-Sufficiency unit of the State Services for the Blind received a minor cut.

The Displaced Homemaker Program was eliminated.

So was the Vinland Center Grant, an employment program for disabled veterans.

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