I know hardworking parents who will not receive unemployment insurance — like the mom who lost a restaurant job in December or the dad whose job through a temp agency was eliminated in early January when an employer cut staffing.
I also know working families who will struggle to access a federal stimulus payment before August. Some because they haven’t filed federal taxes in a couple of years (since they were below the income threshold). Others because they are undocumented or new citizens. And still others because they were married and filed jointly but have since left a domestic violence situation.
As the executive director of a nonprofit serving families in West Central Minnesota, I fear that the pleas of too many of our families are stuck in the “wait and see” buckets at the Legislature and in Congress.
Who will be evicted? Who will be hungry? Who will run out of SNAP benefits? Who can’t afford to leave their abusers? Who will lack diapers for a baby for six weeks? Who will lose access to transportation?
The working Minnesotans who are waiting for us to ensure they are not left behind are disproportionately women of color.
When the state directly deposits unemployment insurance payments to hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans this week, a critical number of workers will be missed.
First, an estimated 70,000 Latinx households will be missed due to restricted eligibility.
Second, most low-income working parents with children who are participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program will be missed. These parents participating in MFIP lost work before COVID-19 shuttered workplaces. But they are now sidelined by shelter-in-place orders and cannot get an immediate job.
State employment data show that two-thirds of parents receiving MFIP have recently worked in hotels or restaurants, or in retail, personal care or temp work. Those industries have been hard hit by the pandemic.
MFIP is the state’s unemployment insurance fund for low-wage workers. Whereas a minimum-wage worker accessing MFIP receives about $632 a month in temporary cash assistance, a minimum-wage worker accessing the newly created pandemic unemployment insurance will receive an estimated $3,200 a month for four months with federally boosted benefits.
Minnesota has unspent federal reserve TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to be used for a crisis. This is the crisis of the century. Minnesota can utilize a small portion of TANF reserve funds to send one-time $500 emergency payments to 27,000 families caring for 55,000 children statewide. Minnesota must join other states in taking bold leadership on behalf of all working families statewide.
Rent and utility bills will be due; gasoline and bus passes will be needed.
We cannot afford to wait and see.
Liz Kuoppala is executive director of the Mahube-Otwa Community Action Partnership in Detroit Lakes, Minn.