Judge protects University students’ welfare grants

by Max Rust

While many people loathed the idea of returning to school this week, one group of low-income students were lucky to do so after a court ruling Monday.
Ramsey County District Judge Michael Monahan on Monday ordered the state Department of Human Services to stop trying to reduce students’ welfare grants if they continue going to school.
The handful of students involved are enrolled in the University’s Student Parent Minnesota Family Investment Program, a 21-month welfare-to-work program that provides education, training and work experience.
Three participants have been battling the human services department since it tried halting the program in September. Department officials ordered Ramsey and Hennepin counties to reduce an integral part of the students’ welfare grants — child care — if they did not leave the welfare-to-work program.
If child care is taken away, most of the students will not be able to continue their schooling.
The students appealed in September to keep child care, and a government mediator took up their case, concluding in late November that program eligibility should be decided on an individual basis rather than by a general rule.
However, the mediator’s superior overruled the decision and sided with the department, stating that nobody could enroll in the program while receiving a full grant.
Last week, the students made a second appeal.
The department opposes the program because “the education component may last longer than 24 months,” department officials say.
Under Minnesota law, welfare-to-work programs cannot have educational components — such as training –lasting more than two years.
However, the University’s Student Parent Minnesota Family Investment Program, which began in early 1999, is designed to last no more than 21 months.
Now the program participants will wait and see if the department attempts once again to try and take them out of the program by removing child care aid.
“There is an expectation that there will be a trial in this case, but that could be several months away,” said David Adler-Rephan, a Legal Aid attorney representing the students.

Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments [email protected].