ST. PAUL (AP) -- The Human Services Department is seeking to end all cash welfare payments to parents who refuse to comply with work requirements in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state's welfare-to-work program.
Commissioner Michael O'Keefe said Monday he wants to focus available resources on people who are hard to employ.
''The basic goal we're looking for is to ensure as few families as possible hit that 60-month limit,'' O'Keefe said, referring to the five-year ceiling on receiving benefits. ''Basically, we want to get their attention and cooperation. There would be very few families who would take that (100 percent) sanction.''
For example, one Ramsey County mother on the program has gone through three jobs since October. She has a difficult time getting along with supervisors, fails to show up for interviews and does the minimum required to stay eligible for welfare payments in MFIP.
''I don't believe she has any intention of actually going to work,'' said Angela Fink, supervisor of the welfare program's job counselors at the St. Paul Rehabilitation Center on University Avenue.
She believes tougher sanctions might allow job counselors to convince such clients that they are serious.
Currently, the state imposes a 10 percent cut in cash assistance for noncompliance with the welfare program, which aims to move parents either into jobs or into job-skills programs resulting in employment. A second instance of noncompliance triggers a 30 percent cut.
Leaders of a group of nonprofits and charities that work with low-income people criticized O'Keefe's proposal. Jason Walsh, coordinator of the Affirmative Options Coalition, said the 100 percent sanction would undermine efforts to reduce child poverty.
''Instead of reducing poverty, these sanctions will put some of the most vulnerable Minnesota children in jeopardy of homelessness and hunger,'' he said.
About 20 welfare rights activists held a rally at the Capitol this morning to protest the proposed changes.
''Minnesota's sanction policy is already a disaster,'' said Linden Gawboy, spokeswoman for the Welfare Rights Committee.
''The DHS ... wants to take a terrible thing and make it worse,'' she added.
The changes would be midcourse corrections to Minnesota Family Investment, the welfare-to-work plan that replaced Aid to Dependent Children in l997. The program, which is in its 30th month, sets a five-year lifetime limit on cash assistance for poor families with dependent children. Some parents can qualify for exceptions from the time limit, if, for example, they are trying hard but are not yet employed or earning enough to be self-sufficient.
The Human Services Department report is expected to generate discussion among legislators, although O'Keefe said the department is not planning to offer legislation for the changes until the 2001 session.
This year, however, the administration will offer recommendations for spending the federal welfare funds that Minnesota has in a reserve account.
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