Governor unveils plans for Minnesota welfare reform

by Chris Vetter

The governor took the first step in the state’s welfare reform process Thursday.
Gov. Carlson’s office released its plans for welfare reform in Minnesota to the public during a press conference at the state Capitol. The welfare changes are a result of new federal laws that abolished the Aid for Families and Dependent Children program, and replaced it with block grants to the states.
Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner David Doth and Assistant Commissioner Deborah Huskins outlined the new welfare plan, which centers around the Minnesota Family Investment Program. The program provides funding for child care, training and education for families that qualify.
The new welfare program requires recipients to work in order to continue receiving funding.
“Work is expected,” Doth said. “Two-parent families will be required to begin work immediately. Failure to work means sanctions will be imposed, like reduced benefits.”
The cost of the new welfare program was not announced. Doth said estimated figures would be released next week when the bill is introduced in the Legislature and at the governor’s Jan. 16 State of the State address. But Doth said the cost of the new program will exceed the $268 million grant the state will receive from the federal government.
“This program is a priority with the governor,” Doth said. “He will prioritize the budget, and move money around to make money for this project.”
Huskins said the largest part of the cost of the new program comes from increased child care funding, and any changes in state welfare will be made with children in mind, Huskins said. Of the 174,000 individuals on welfare in Minnesota each month, approximately 118,000 are children.
“What we do will affect (children) and how they are able to contribute to society,” Huskins said.
Other planned changes to the state welfare system include a 30-day residency requirement in order to receive aid.
Under the plan, new Minnesota residents can only receive funding comparable to that in the previous state in which they lived.
“Welfare will become a neutral factor for people’s decision to move to Minnesota,” Doth said. “We don’t want to become a magnet (for new recipients).”
The new welfare program must be put into law by March 31 so the program can be fully implemented by July 1 in accordance with the federal law, Huskins said.
Doth said the federal welfare law Congress passed last year is an improvement over the system it replaces because it limits the recipient to five years on welfare. The law also increases enforcement on collecting child support from noncustodial parents. However, Minnesota already has strict laws on child support enforcement, so little will change.
Despite the improvements in welfare reform, the recent federal law has several flaws, Huskins said. The law provides no funding for legal non-residents, and the block grant is the same amount for each year over the next six years. Thus the law is not “recession-proof” because an increase in recipients would not lead to an increase of funding from the federal government.