Traineesfight welfare reduction

by Max Rust

Two women enrolled in a University job-training program attempted Wednesday to stop a state legal maneuver that would reduce their welfare grants.
In an emergency hearing at the Ramsey County Courthouse, Judge M. Michael Monahan heard arguments from LaShunda Phillips and Mary Roe, not her real name. The women asked the court to force the state’s Department of Human Services to rescind an order it made last month.
The department ordered eight students to leave the University’s Student Parent Minnesota Family Investment Program or have their welfare grants reduced. The state order also left 42 potential participants unable to begin a new session of the program.
The University program attempts to move people on welfare to University civil service jobs by providing education, training and work experience.
Under new welfare laws, programs designed to move people into the work force must be approved by a job counselor for people to receive full welfare grants.
Despite job-counselor approvals, the state last month declared that Phillips and Roe could not stay in the program and continue receiving full welfare grants.
Human Services department officials said they made the order because they thought the educational component of the University program might be too long.
A part of the Minnesota Family Investment Program law states that work programs designed to get people off welfare cannot have an educational component — like training — last more than two years. The MFIP law implements guidelines in the federal Welfare Reform Act, which aims to limit individual welfare grants to five years.
The University program is designed to move participants into jobs within 17 to 21 months. According to those running the program, everything is going smoothly.
“It’s been a pretty phenomenal program,” said Holly Ingersoll, the program manager.
Among other things, the students learned various computer programs and operating systems as well as writing skills and video production.
“Many of the students were tutored in PowerPoint and did a PowerPoint presentation for a human anatomy class this summer,” Ingersoll said. “That was just one of the work skills they developed that will be a very transferable, marketable skill.”
Even though the program appears to be on track, Department of Human Services officials maintain that they have been presented with a different story.
“Our interpretation is that the educational component may last longer than 24 months,” said Mary Orr, an acting assistant commissioner for the department.
She also pointed out that a University proposal to the state Legislature last year to try the program as an experiment never made it through the conference committee.
But David Adler-Rephan, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis who is representing Phillips and Roe, said that is irrelevant.
“Legislative inaction doesn’t reveal the Legislature’s intent,” he said. “Inaction could mean a million things.”
Because of the department’s order, Phillips and Roe have lost their child care funding and must go through an appeal process to have it reinstated.
“Without child care, they cannot continue in the program,” David Alden-Rephan said. “They are nine months away from finishing and getting the civil service jobs.”
Orr maintains that the department is trying to carry out the goals of the welfare laws.
“Our interest is to make sure that MFIP participants succeed in what they are trying to do,” she said. “Because there is a 60-month time limit on MFIP assistance, our interest is trying to move people to work as quickly as possible.”

Max Rust covers area communities and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612 627-4070 x3227.