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Lawmaker seeks ‘overdue’ cash assistance for MFIP families

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

When the Legislature started discussing cash benefits for households on the Minnesota Family Investment Program in 2020, the program had about 26,000 participants.

That number has jumped to 34,000 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is something that is overdue,” Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Mpls) told the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday. “We’re talking about children. We’re talking about kids who are living in poverty.”

He sponsors HF1785, which would provide onetime supplemental payments of up to $500 to families on MFIP, using a $17 million appropriation in fiscal year 2022 from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund, a federal block grant program.

It was amended to reflect the increased number of families on the program and laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

A companion, SF1731, is sponsored by Sen. Melissa Wiklund (DFL-Bloomington) and awaits action by the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

Even with other aid, like federal stimulus payments, families are still struggling to afford basic necessities such as rent, food, child care, clothing, and other costs of daily life that may not be covered by other programs, testifiers said.

In addition, many people on MFIP lost their jobs shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., meaning that they “lost out on thousands, and thousands, and thousands of dollars in safety net” funding made available to workers laid off in direct response to the pandemic, said Jessica Webster, a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project.

“We have seen the desperation that these families are showing … not being able to meet basic needs,” she said. “The TANF dollars are there to make that investment.”

Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake) said the more effective and long-term way of helping families in need is to allow them to “get back to work by opening the economy in a safe manner” and urged the committee to focus on that.

Even for people with jobs, their wages may be so low that they need cash assistance, as well as food and child care assistance, in order to make ends meet, said Rep. Jennifer Schultz (DFL-Duluth), the committee chair.

The bill also would provide a $31,000 appropriation from the General Fund to the Department of Human Services to cover technology costs associated with administering the cash benefit.

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