Two-thirds of the 67,000 people for whom the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) is a lifeline are children. Their lifeline is badly frayed. The Legislature has made no increase in MFIP’s monthly cash grants — $532 for a family of three — since 1986.
Yet those concerned about the state’s future workforce have said little as a proposed increase in grants to the state’s assistance program for its neediest families has stalled at the Legislature again this year. The Republican-controlled House failed to consider Gov. Mark Dayton’s call for a $100-a-month boost in MFIP cash awards, and the DFL-controlled Senate, which approved a boost last year, failed to include MFIP in its latest budget.
Two-thirds of MFIP’s 30,000 recipient families are people of color. Yet MFIP has been scarcely mentioned by voices at the Capitol calling for state action to promote racial fairness.
Minnesotans are known for compassion for the disadvantaged. Yet programs for needy families comparable to MFIP are more generous in many other states, including South Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin and — notably — Wyoming, which indexed its monthly benefit amounts to inflation in 2009. Nebraska did the same last year.
Who’s speaking out about MFIP’s betrayal of Minnesota values?
To their credit, a coalition of faith groups and organizations that advocate for children and the homeless are on the job, providing a voice at the Capitol for the mostly single parents and their children who cling precariously to the bottom rung of the economic ladder. But with fewer than three weeks remaining in the 2016 legislative session, they need help. They are bucking a deep-seated stigma against government welfare programs and those who’ve turned to them to support their families.
American resentment of “the dole” runs deep, despite changes in both poverty and welfare in recent decades. U.S. welfare programs like MFIP were altered 20 years ago to add a five-year time limit and a requirement of either work or job training in order to receive benefits. Those changes were intended to put recipients on a path to self-sufficiency, and have worked as intended for some.
But the postindustrial economy is continually pushing out people who lack the skills or traits that living-wage employment requires. And political unwillingness to increase MFIP benefits or allow them to rise automatically with inflation is denying its recipients the stability and opportunity that the program was intended to provide.
An MFIP family of three that also receives food stamps lives on $991 per month, or about 60 percent of the federal poverty level. (To qualify, a family must have very low income and assets of no more than $2,000, save for a car with value up to $10,000.) Support that small means that MFIP is offering families desperation, not hope. It’s no wonder that the share of poor families enrolling in MFIP is down substantially from a decade ago. Nearly two-thirds of those eligible said no to MFIP in 2013, deeming its promise hollow.
They have a point: If state lawmakers won’t adjust MFIP grants for inflation 30 years after their last increase, when the economy has fully recovered from recession and the state is running a surplus, will it ever do so? Do Minnesotans still see that the whole state benefits when children are spared the worst ravages of poverty?
Dayton seeks a $100 increase in MFIP’s monthly grants at a cost of $28 million in fiscal 2017. We second that motion, and hope to hear a lot more seconds in coming days.