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Food Support eligibility plan on hold

Published (2/18/2010)
By Lauren Radomski
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Alexandra Fitzsimmons, policy director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, testifies before the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division Feb. 16 in support of a bill that would modify MFIP and food stamp provisions. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)More Minnesotans would be eligible for the federal Food Support program, under a bill laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill.

Rep. Patti Fritz (DFL-Faribault) sponsors HF453, which would eliminate a $7,000 asset limit on households eligible for the program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the bill, households would need to make less than about $30,000 annually to receive benefits; their assets would not count against their eligibility. While Food Support is a federally-funded program, states have the ability to restrict access.

Speaking to the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division Feb. 16, Fritz said the bill is targeted, in part, toward out-of-work, middle-class Minnesotans who need assistance as they try to get back on their feet. Only 60 percent of state residents who are eligible for the program are actually enrolled, she said, in part because of the stigma associated with public assistance.

Asset limits for Food Support are inconsistent with the Minnesota values of hard work and self-reliance, said Alexandra Fitzsimmons, policy director for the Minnesota Catholic Conference. Those limits punish families trying to maintain or achieve economic independence by building up their savings.

“Forcing individuals to spend down long-term savings to qualify for short-term assistance leaves individuals and families more vulnerable in the future,” Fitzsimmons said.

Some division members said they were concerned about the lack of any asset limit, prompting a heated discussion on how to ensure benefits go to people who need them most. Rep. Laura Brod (R-New Prague) questioned whether dropping asset limits indefinitely would be sustainable.

“It is not compassionate to make promises that a government knows it can’t keep,” Brod said.

“The point is we all care about people in need,” said Rep. Steve Gottwalt (R-St. Cloud). “The question here is, ‘What are we doing with a government program?’”

A companion, SF481, sponsored by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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