Minnesota’s most basic support for families is stuck in a 30-year-long time warp, and it’s hurting 64,000 of our kids

Ben Horowitz
Feb 11, 2016

When a family falls on hard times, the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) can provide some vital, basic resources to see them through. MFIP provides a small cash grant for parents working in low-wage jobs, looking for employment, and attending job training. Unfortunately, the cash grant intended to help parents keep their kids sheltered and in warm winter clothes hasn’t increased since 1986. The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) reports on the troubling implications in a brief they released this week.

In 1986, policymakers set the cash grant amount at $532 a month for a family of three. At the time, the official federal poverty guideline for that family was $9,120 annually. Today, a family of three would need $20,160 to provide for the bare necessities. That means a $532 monthly grant now leaves families with less than a third of the resources necessary to not live in poverty.

As the LSAP brief describes in detail — and as anyone paying their bills can tell you — $532 doesn’t even cover rent for a three-person family. And no matter how cheap gas gets, $532 won’t cover the rest of a family’s basic necessities, either. As a result, about 64,000 children whose families participate in MFIP have parents that routinely make tough choices, like whether to keep their bill collectors at bay or fill their gas tank to make it to a job interview.

Much of MFIP’s funding comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which also covers other vital services for low-income Minnesotans. A year ago, the Minnesota TANF Expenditures Task Force published a set of recommendations after taking a long, hard look at how Minnesota uses its TANF resources.

These policy experts urged policymakers to increase the monthly cash grant by about $100. In the long term, they recommended restoring the buying power of the cash grant to to its 1986 level. For perspective, it would take $1,148 in 2016 to buy goods and services that cost $532 in 1986.

Last year, Governor Mark Dayton proposed a $100 increase to the MFIP cash grant in his supplemental budget proposal. Despite receiving bipartisan support in both chambers of the Legislature, the increase did not make it into the budget. This year, for the 30th year in a row, the MFIP cash assistance grant remains frozen in time. Policymakers will once again have a chance to help tens of thousands of Minnesota’s most vulnerable children by restoring this vital resource. Here’s hoping they do the right thing.

-Ben Horowitz