Bill mandates work for welfare

Chris Vetter

While legislators cheered Gov. Arne Carlson inside the State Capitol, several protestors lined up outside his office, shouting “No justice, no peace.” They were objecting to the Governor’s signing of the state’s welfare reform bill.
For the first time in 60 years, poor and unemployed Minnesotans will no longer be automatically entitled to state aid and must work to obtain public money when the new welfare reform bill becomes law next January.
Gov. Arne Carlson at the State Capitol Wednesday signed the bipartisan welfare reform bill Wednesday that overhauls the current system.
The new law, dubbed the Minnesota Family Investment Plan, requires recipients to work to receive benefits.
At the Wednesday press conference, Carlson congratulated both Republican and Democratic leaders for their bipartisan efforts on the bill. He was surrounded at the first ceremonial signing of the session by the 10 legislators who served on the bill’s conference committee.
Carlson answered the protesters outside, saying they were working so hard outside that they should direct that energy toward finding a job. “If they had put half as much time into work, they would be very successful,” he said.
Inside, Carlson said the bipartisan approach was key to getting the bill passed.
“This was not a question of Democratic approach or Republican approach, it was a question of philosophy,” Carlson said. That philosophy includes getting able-bodied people to work to improve their lives, he said.
“The worst cruelty you could do to a person is say, ‘We never expect you to go to work and amount to anything,'” Carlson said. “We must stop this nonsense of measuring compassion by how much we are spending on welfare.”
Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, the chief sponsor of the bill, said that it would not have passed if both parties had not supported it.
“We knew we had a tremendous job ahead of us,” Samuelson said. “We didn’t have time for any petty bickering.”
One of the law’s most controversial provisions will try to stop the growth of out-of-state residents moving to Minnesota for its generous welfare rolls. The state spends $325 million on welfare each year, which is significantly higher than surrounding states.
Newcomers would receive no benefits for their first 30 days in Minnesota. In addition, the law requires the state to provide the same level of funding for recipients they would have received in their home state for one year.
The law also sets a five-year lifetime limit on state aid, and requires people to seek work immediately. One parent from two-parent families who request state aid must begin looking for work immediately, while single parents must begin looking for work within six months.
Congress passed a federal welfare reform law last August, which also cuts off all recipients after five years. The federal law also eliminated $26 million in funding for legal non-citizen immigrants and eliminated the Aid for Families with Dependent Children program. Congress moved from guarantees of need-based funding to a system of annual block grants to the states.