Push begins to raise state welfare grants

Jessica Webster, with Minnesota Legal Aid, calls for an increase in welfare assistance. Tom Scheck/MPR News

A task force appointed by the Legislature is pushing for Minnesota to increase cash assistance for welfare recipients.

The state hasn't raised payments for basic expenses, including housing and transportation, since 1986.  About 30,000 Minnesota families receive the benefits.

Jessica Webster, a task force member who is an attorney with Minnesota Legal Aid, said the task force is suggesting increasing the monthly grants by about $80.

"The stunning reality for the task force is that this grant has not increased since 1986,” Webster said. “The grant in 1986 was $532 for a family three. Today it is also $532.”

The task force report recommends that the state shift about $70 million in federal funds from a working families tax credit and the state health department to cover the cost of the higher monthly grant.

The state would have to cover the cost of the shift, which would amount to about $70 million over two years.

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Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, is the chief author of a bill to enact the task force recommendations.

She said she increasing the grants will help bring people out of poverty.

"This bill, I think is a good start,” Franson said. “The cash assistance has remained flat since 1986, and the buying power of 1986 isn't exactly the same as it is in 2015."

Franson said several other Republicans, including Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, and Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, have signed on to her bill.

Gov. Mark Dayton did not include an increase in welfare assistance in his budget plan.

Here's the full report from the task force: