Tevlin: In Rep. Franson's district, 'animals' are also known as constituents

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 7:38 AM
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State Rep. Mary Franson, left, with state Sen. Mike Parry

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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When Rep. Mary Franson compared people who get food stamps to animals in the wild, beholden to humans who feed them, she was being blissfully ignorant of a growing number of people who live in a certain region in Minnesota.

Namely, her neighbors.

Before she made jokes about people on food stamps, or SNAP, she might have asked around, or just looked at the website for Todd County, which is in her district. There, she would have seen a recent report that both food stamps and medical assistance are up dramatically in Todd County.

Soaring, under her watch.

The assumption behind Franson's logic is that people who get assistance do so because, like animals used to being fed, they get lazy. But the report from Todd County Social Services shows quite the opposite. The unemployment rate is relatively low, 5.8 percent. People are working, and working hard, but the fact is they just don't get paid very much.

"A review of the Todd County Social Service recession statistics reveals a steady trend of increase in Food Support and Medical Assistance for households," the report said. "Food Support [food stamps] has increased by 363 households since 2008, in spite of low unemployment in the county. It reflects low or minimum salary positions and a need for support to feed families. The same can be said of Medical Assistance, with growth of 285 households since 2008. There may be employment, but this is without health benefits for family, public medical insurance is needed for families and elderly."

Need, Rep. Franson. Your constituents, about 8 percent of them, need help because the businesses in your district can't or won't pay them enough to live on, and can't or won't provide them with health care.

Those are not animals, those are real people, 3,077 of them in Douglas County, also in Franson's district, and 2,200 of them in Todd County, who get help to buy food. Many of them are children. More than 8,000 people in those counties also are on medical assistance.

Some people in Franson's district also needed help with their heating bills. Todd County approved almost 1,400 applications for assistance, and replaced 59 furnaces for people who were just plain too broke to fix them.

Franson probably thinks these people are slackers, too, no-goods leeching off the public. Again, she's wrong. According to county data, 47 percent of those who got energy assistance were over 60 and 35 percent were disabled.

In Douglas County, 6.7 percent of her constituents live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. census. But if you look closer, the people most in need are the most vulnerable. Among households led by a woman, with no man present, 25.8 percent are poor. Among female-headed families with children under 5, 40 percent are below the poverty level.

Franson might not know these people -- her neighbors -- very well, but I do.

I lived in Todd County and graduated from high school there. Yes, some of the people who took assistance were lazy or drunks. But mostly they were people like the old woman across the street, whose husband had died many years ago, or like the people who toiled on poor dirt farms, or waited tables at the local restaurant.

Yes, they were even people like my dad, who after working for 40 years at Honeywell had a brain aneurism and had to rely on Social Security, pension, and food stamps for a while.

My dad accepted food stamps because he believed in responsibility, responsibility to feed his kids even though he couldn't work.

I wanted to talk to Franson about personal responsibility and left her messages with a couple of questions. Instead of calling back, she issued a press release calling me "a voice for the dependency lobby."

We didn't use to behave that way up in central Minnesota. We disagreed face to face.

After her little joke about the poor, Franson issued an apology on Twitter. But you have to question her sincerity when her treasurer then used the uproar over the incident to raise money: "Please donate, the war on women has come to Minnesota."

The war on women apparently now joins the war on the poor.

I think there's a well-worn term for Franson's "poor-me" attitude, and it's often used by people who think like she does against those less fortunate: It's called playing the victim.

jtevlin@startribune.com 612-673-1702

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