Decades later, Terese Hermann can recall growing up in poverty with no mother and a father who was in poor health.

The "dumpster diving" at Goodwill. The church ladies coming over with well-meaning but often awkward gifts. Wearing a snowmobile suit and Moon Boots in the house because they couldn't afford to turn up the heat.

Most of all, Hermann remembers the embarrassment.

"Along with knowing empathy and unconditional love for my struggling father, I grew to know the stigma attached to families on welfare all too well," Hermann testified recently at the Legislature.

"I experienced humiliation while paying with food stamps at the local stores … and shame while cashing our monthly welfare check."

Hermann said her father suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and found it hard to keep a job.

"He was a hard worker when he did work," said Hermann, now 38. "But he just couldn't work after a while. The church helped us a lot, and it was really sweet that people showed up with gifts at Christmastime."

Hermann and her father also survived on a small amount of government aid, then called AFDC, now called the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). She recalled how anxiously her father awaited the monthly check of $437 — the rate for one parent and child — so he could buy groceries and pay the rent.

That's why Hermann stepped forward to testify. The amount of assistance has not changed a penny since she was a girl, something anti-poverty groups are tying to change this legislative session.

"The fact that there is a 9-year-old girl out there as we speak, counting down the days for the same $437 a month that I did 30 years ago, is heartbreaking and needs to change," Hermann told lawmakers.

Kenza Hadj-Moussa, communications and development director for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, said the amount of assistance has not gone up with inflation for several reasons, including years of budget deficits during the recession.

Now that the state is on better financial footing, there is a determination to raise the amount by $100 a month.

Cash assistance under MFIP — which requires parents to be working, in school or in job training — is a maximum of $532 per month for a family of three. Bipartisan bills to raise the MFIP rate are in both legislative chambers, said Hadj-Moussa.

"Now that we have a surplus, it's time to help the poorest of the poor," Hadj-Moussa said. "That extra $100 could help a family plug important holes in their budgets."

The coalition recently canvassed families receiving assistance and asked how the extra money would help.

"I'd be able to get more bills paid," one recipient said. "Four hundred and thirty-seven dollars is honestly not enough; it's appreciated, but an extra $100 would help my family out with more food or clothing."

Others said they would use the money for such essentials as diapers, baby wipes, utilities or food and emergencies.

Hermann, for one, can empathize.

"I feel a lot of compassion for people who are struggling," she said. "I'm sure you can find examples of people who are abusing the system, but it's not a way most people want to live."

The money Hermann's father received to keep her fed and in school has paid off many times over, she said. A program for poor families allowed Hermann to get a job at age 14 to help with family finances.

"For the last 24 years, I have been employed every day, not only providing for myself, but also helping my father in any way possible," Hermann said. "I have served my country in the military, paid plenty of taxes and continue to seek higher education."

After high school, Hermann joined the Army and became a combat medic. A few years ago, she graduated with honors and received an associate's degree from Century College.

She is currently a double major at St. Catherine University, where she is on the dean's list with a 4.0 GPA, all while managing a large department at the corporate offices of Kemp's.

"I have accomplished all this and more despite society's expectations of being a welfare recipient," she told legislators. "My father received funds from the state because we truly needed the help, just as many do today."