MILACA (AP) -- When the public checks run out at the end of the month, Donna Palozie and her daughter have few places to turn. There's a local food shelf in this tiny city, and some free transportation. But not much else.
That's why Palozie is so nervous about a change in welfare rules that could cut her family's monthly assistance from about $810 to $700. That might not seem like much, but for the disabled -- Palozie is in a wheelchair after a spinal cord injury -- it means a lot. She has no other income, and rent alone consumes half of her public aid.
"There's nothing left when I'm done (paying bills)," she said Wednesday from her home here. "It's month-to-month. I'm borrowing. Right now, I'm broke. And what is it, the ninth or tenth of the month only?"
Palozie gets $462 a month from Social Security and $110 in Supplemental Security Income. Her daughter, Jennifer, gets $250 a month in welfare benefits. Under the new state rule, however, her daughter would lose $110 a month -- the amount of Palozie's SSI benefit.
To help combat the state's budget crisis, the Legislature decided to reduce state cash benefits to families in which a child or adult already receives a federal disability check.
"I don't think it's right to take away from the disabled," said Palozie, who was injured in a car crash in 1989. "We didn't ask to become disabled. It's a terrible thing to live with this pain, and I don't have the option of getting a job."
About 7,000 Minnesota families stand to lose welfare benefits this year because of the legislative rule change, which would save the state $22 million over the next two years.
Palozie is a plaintiff in a lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid, that challenges the change. A Ramsey County judge temporarily blocked the change and will decide after a hearing July 21 whether to issue an injunction.
Ralonda Mason, an attorney for St. Cloud Area Legal Services, said the state failed to get permission for the rule change from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She also said it goes beyond the intentions of the 1996 federal welfare overhaul that allowed states to impose tough new rules. Those rules have been credited with reducing the number of people on welfare.
"Some of the changes have been good, have been positive. They've provided assistance in moving people out of poverty and to self-sufficiency," Mason said. "But we've really moved away from that. The changes from the 2003 Legislature are a real move away from that. They undercut that support for families."
Leo Vos, the director of Mille Lacs County Family Services, which administers Palozie's benefits, said budgets are already tight for people collecting disability checks. He predicted an increase in the use of food shelves, like the Milaca Area Pantry a few blocks from his office. It's supported by a dozen churches.
"What happened (to welfare benefits) was a reflection of the legislative session," Vos said. "The no-new-taxes, no-growth-in-government ideas. This is the net effect."
He added: "Everybody knew there would be cuts, it was just a matter of their magnitude."
Chuck Johnson, who directs the Families with Children Division of the Human Services Department, said he believes the rule change complies with federal regulations.
"I don't think anybody thought there wouldn't be families hurt by this," Johnson said. "But the issue was, relative to others with no SSI, (families with disabled members) did have more income. In many cases they may have additional needs, and I understand that. And I can't dispute that they can't go out and find work."
Helen Hinton of Blue Earth joined Palozie in the lawsuit. Hinton, who is retired, said she suffered from polio when she was young and currently struggles with heart problems.
She and her husband Loyd are raising a teenage granddaughter, Jessica, and collect about $850 a month in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. Jessica gets $250 a month, but that would be cut under the rule change, Hinton said.
"That might not seem like much to most people, but two-fifty looks like a million dollars to me," she said. After paying the mortgage of about $240 and other monthly expenses, the family has about $80 left over, she said.
While the court case is worked out, Palozie and Hinton will look for ways to boost their income in case the rule change stands. Neither father of the girls the women support are paying child support.
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