If you’re poor and on welfare in Minnesota, the Legislature has a bill for you. Several bills, actually.
So far this session, lawmakers have introduced bills that would requiredrug testing for welfare recipients,insert photo identification on the EBT cards poor families use to buy food and double the waiting period to get on public assistance in Minnesota, among others.
At a Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, offered his proposal for photo food stamps and a 60-day waiting period for benefits. He was prompted, he said, by constituent reports about people moving to Minnesota just to get on the state’s welfare rolls.
He relayed a story from a man who runs a private moving company, who helped a woman move from Chicago to Morrison County. In testimony before the committee, Gazelka said the unidentified businessman told him: “She looked me in the eye and said, ‘I’m moving here for the welfare benefits…A few months later, her sister moved (because) Morrison County has the best welfare benefits in the state. ”
Skeptical DFL committee members questioned whether the state should rewrite the law – and spend more than $500,000 to reissue electronic benefit cards cards with photographs – because of a few anecdotal stories.
“The issue, whether we are a welfare magnet state, is a pretty profound issue – if we can back that up,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Mineapolis. “This bill doesn’t look like it’s ready (for a vote) There are questions being asked that should have been asked before you got here.”
Gazelka admitted that he did not realize that photo IDs would come with a cost – never mind the half-million dollar fiscal note attached to his bill. Nor did he realize that Wisconsin’s 60-day waiting period for welfare benefits – which he cited as a model for his bill – had been repealed in 1999.
Nevertheless, he said, he remains concerned about the potential for fraud and abuse in public benefits and believes his proposals – particularly the 60-day waiting period, which carries no additional fiscal costs for the state – are a reasonable precaution.
Debra Howze, 54, is an unemployed, widowed cancer survivor whose EBT card offers her $437 a month that she uses to feed herself and her 15-year-old grandson. For her, the bills floating around the Legislature this session are a sort of “mean-spirited tinkering,” aimed at the poorest Minnesotans.
“When we are broke and desperate, we don’t move to other states for fun,” she said. “Just because we need help from the state doesn’t mean we don’t have morals and understanding.”
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