The Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) is designed to help low-income families and pregnant women with job skills and income assistance. However, a Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid report released in February found that the program has not been adjusted for inflation since 1986.
If families meet “an initial income test, an initial asset limit of $2,000, and provide needed verifications” the MFIP provides in return a monthly benefit that includes cash and food assistance. An unemployed single parent with two children, for example, can get $532 and food benefits of $446.
The participant receives job training, must seek employment for at least 30 hours per week for up to six weeks, and gets their GED if under age 20 and didn’t finish high school.
“What someone was getting [in assistance] in 1986 is the same amount of money they would be getting today,” explained State Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) in a recent conversation with the MSR. He and other state lawmakers have sponsored an amendment to the Senate tax bill that, if passed, will help increase the MFIP’s income assistance. The Minnesota Legislature begins its session March 8.
“This is something that really needs to get done,” noted Hayden, adding that there are several Republican legislators who support it but too many who don’t simply because they see the MFIP, the state’s welfare reform program, as only helping people who don’t want to work.
The senator from South Minneapolis strongly disagrees because most MFIP participants are “victims of poverty.”
“We know they want to work and do better,” continued Hayden. “This is an opportunity to give them the basic dollars for them and their family to survive. They still need help in job skills to take care of themselves.”
Also, there is a 60-month time limit in the MFIP program, Hayden pointed out. “They have five years to use the benefits, and [after that] they’re gone.”
The proposal is among other bills that Hayden and others are developing to help all Minnesotans. Hayden is also a co-sponsor of SF 2054 — the “disparities impact” bill — which he said “is the exact same bill” as HF 2198, introduced by DFL House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen [see “State laws can accidently harm communities of color” story on this page].
“It’s an opportunity for us to look at ourselves and try to look at what impact [policies and laws] have on people of color and how it is going to help them,” explained Hayden, who subtitled it a “projection” bill. “We are trying to predict that if you pass this [bill], will it have a severe impact, [and] what impact, good or bad [it] can have on these communities, because we often know that a lot of well-intended proposals can have negative consequences to our communities.”
However, just as the GOP balked on supporting Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s call for a special legislative session to closely look at the state’s racial disparities, Hayden unfortunately sees another hard time getting both state houses to agree on this legislation as well.
“We’re hopeful, but I am not sure in an environment like this, with people running for office demonizing this population as one who don’t want to work, which is not true,” said the state senator. But this would help all Minnesotans, including those of color, Hayden argued, adding that a serious effort must be made to put “more money in our people’s pockets to be part of this economy.”
If not, “I believe we will be in trouble for a very long time.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.