Once again welfare reform advocates are bringing an impossibly ambitious list of demands to the Capitol this legislative session. They hope to double grants, end the five-year limit people are allowed to stay and collect benefits, and raise income restrictions so more poor Minnesotans can get help.
Tracy Molm with the Welfare Rights Committee acknowledges the tiny likelihood of that type of sweeping reform, especially with Republicans retaking the House, but they do hope to build on a small victory last year.
Last year, with the DFL in control of the state government, they were able to eliminate restrictions on families with more than one kid. Previously, benefits were frozen after a family had one kid. Now families are eligible for a small increase every time they have a new kid.
Still, as inflation and the cost of living increased, benefits remain exactly the same as they were in 1986.
"There are families with two children living on $437 per month, and I have no idea how they do it," says Molm.
Karen Smigielski of the Department of Human Services confirms the nearly 30-year freeze, though food stamps get an annual cost-of-living adjustment.
Molm thinks not only doubling welfare, but making more people eligible, is essential to raising people out of poverty.
"There's this contradictory problem where if you're on welfare you can't earn any kind of income. But if you go off of welfare you're likely not going to find a job that's going to pay for all of your daily needs -- child care, rent, food, transportation, and everything else," she says.
"I think the conservative rhetoric is that people who are living off of welfare are lazy, but the reality is if you live on welfare you're not lazy, you're struggling every single day."
With a massive state surplus to dole out and an increasing gap between the richest 1 percent and everyone else, is this the year welfare reform finally happens?
"I'd be lying if I said yes," says Molm. "We've been around for 20 years fighting for welfare reform and for the state to provide for people in need, and although we've made some strides, I think if we do win anything it will be small."
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