Students protestnew welfare law

Kamariea Forcier

Their voices carried halfway across the State Capitol grounds — blocked from reaching downtown St. Paul only by the interstate traffic roaring past.
“Stop the war on the poor! Hey politicians, we’re at your door,” they shouted to the new and returning Minnesota legislators, assembling for their first day of the new session.
More than 100 protesters, including University students and other concerned residents of Minnesota, gathered to protest potential changes to state welfare services.
Their purpose was to raise awareness about the welfare reform bill passed by federal legislators last year. The new law is now forcing state legislators to discuss potential cuts.
Children barely old enough to walk held hands with their mothers and fathers and joined the chanting. Students from the University’s Progressive Student Organization held banners. Hmong families came early and stayed late to show their support for welfare rights.
“They say cut back — we say fight back” the protesters cried, breathing plumes of steam into the cold winter air.
They even waved upside-down American flags as they sought to convey their message to the legislators: that welfare cuts would not affect a faceless crowd, but individuals.
Former University student Sue Rich is one who would be affected by cuts. She is the legal guardian of her younger sister, who was removed from an abusive family situation. Rich is a student at Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, and she is a welfare recipient.
Rich receives $437 a month from the former federal Aid to Families with Dependant Children program, which formally ended last October. That’s enough money for rent, phone and electricity bills, Rich said. Grants and loans pay her tuition.
“I’m big-time in debt,” Rich said.
For her, it isn’t a matter of sitting around and using the system. It isn’t easy to live on welfare for anyone, she said. “Those people who say it is haven’t seen the amount people get.”
But Rich said her major concern is with how ignorant some legislators are, regarding the reasons some people go on welfare.
A majority of people who sign up for assistance are doing so to escape domestic abuse, Rich said. If the state forces people off welfare, claiming it is being abused by lazy people, it stigmatizes the system, she added.
“We just made the hurdle even higher,” for people to escape from domestic abuse, she said.
Sandra Lindstrom, a mother of two and a University senior majoring in international environmental relations, said she too will be affected by welfare cuts.
Lindstrom said the state is already cutting her services without giving her specific reasons for doing so. Lindstrom said the state cut off day care support for her two children, her AFDC support and her monthly food stamps.
Lindstrom said she will graduate in June, but studying and finding people to care for her children is difficult.
She brought her children to school a few times, but said “it’s hard to concentrate with a baby on your lap.”
Still, she struggles to stay ahead. “I’m a hard-working woman,” she said of herself. “I’m just trying to make it.”