This February, Gov. Tim Walz announced his plan for Minnesota’s budget, which is working its way through the Legislature. Amid the big headlines about gas tax hikes and increased educational spending, an important aspect of Walz’s budget has received little media attention: MFIP.
The Minnesota Family Investment Program is designed to help meet basic needs. It provides modest cash assistance ($348 per month, for a lifetime total of 60 months) to struggling families. Eligibility for this program is based on a family’s income and savings — those who earn less than 115 percent of the federal poverty guideline per year (about $24,500 for a family of three in 2019) and have less than $10,000 in savings are eligible.
An additional $348 for struggling families might seem great — and it is — but this amount isn’t enough. In Minneapolis, the average two-bedroom apartment costs $1,842 — and most residents notice their rent rising every year. A single bus rider in Minneapolis can expect to spend between $80 and $100 per month to get to and from work — not including bus rides to the supermarket, doctor’s office or anywhere else. The average family spends 3.8 percent of income on clothing — about $180. (Most families would struggle to spend less than $100 per month on clothes.)
Added up, this already exceeds the $2,040 per month represented by 115 percent of the poverty line. It doesn’t include any expenses related to child care, diapers, toys or educational expenses, and it assumes a family is already receiving WIC, SNAP and Medicaid. For parents, these numbers don’t add up.
The additional $348 provided by MFIP benefits would certainly help a struggling family — but not enough to raise them out of poverty. Day care alone will cost the average family in Hennepin County $1,462 per month for a single child.
The level of cash assistance through MFIP hasn’t been adjusted since 1986. Adjusted for inflation, families in 1986 received the equivalent of about $800 per month in today’s dollars, and the amount struggling families have received has decreased every year since. And, of course, some goods and services, like housing and health care, have increased in cost beyond inflation.
As Americans, we aren’t always sympathetic to those relying on government programs. “I pay my fair share, so why shouldn’t they?” we ask. But life is unpredictable, and as much as we hate to admit it, there may come a day when any of us could need to rely on public assistance to meet our basic needs. As a social worker, I have worked with many hard-working Minnesota families who have faced difficult financial times. Some have lost their breadwinner to a sudden death. Some have faced shocking medical bills after a child was diagnosed with a chronic disease. Some have suffered layoffs during difficult economic times and have struggled to find work again for many months.
When Minnesota families financially struggle, we all struggle. Experiencing poverty as a child can have ramifications that last for many years, including health problems like asthma and diabetes; poor nutrition, which can lead to learning delays; and eventually greater academic, social and educational problems in adolescence and adulthood.
Children are our future — they very literally will grow up to be our doctors, our children’s teachers and our politicians. By helping families meet their basic needs today, we can help create a better Minnesota for us all.
Government programs like MFIP exist to make life a little less unpredictable for all of us and ensure a minimum acceptable standard of living for all Minnesotans. We have the power to improve the quality of life of our struggling neighbors. Urge the governor, in addition to your senator and representative, to increase the amount of MFIP benefits even more. And even better — urge politicians to push for annual inflation adjustments to all benefits, including MFIP. Together, we can ensure a brighter future for Minnesota by ending poverty once and for all.
Nova J. Bradford, of Minneapolis, is a social worker.