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Study: Budget Cuts Left Many in MN Without a Safety Net

March 18, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Cutting a "safety net" program a few years ago led to more homelessness in Minnesota, a new study has found. It also reports that since then, more Minnesota families are having to turn to charities, which aren't equipped to meet the growing need.

Researcher Jessica Webster with the Legal Services Advocacy Project says the study looked at a state-funded emergency assistance program that helped low-income Minnesota families stay in their homes while they weathered a short-term financial crisis.

"During the 2003 budget shortfall, the state made some really unforgiving cuts to emergency help for poor families. Now we know that thousands of families in crisis were turned away, and that our churches, food shelves and homeless shelters haven't been able to meet the surge in demand."

She says the program served 25,000 Minnesota families a year. After the cuts, almost 5,000 families facing financial emergencies didn't get the state aid they would have. Webster says she hopes lawmakers looking for ways to cut state spending will keep in mind what happened to those 5,000 families.

Webster says the program was a temporary stop-gap for families in danger of losing their homes, and the cost of eliminating it was much higher than the small amount of savings.

"It did give some discretionary reduced amount of funding to counties to provide emergency assistance, if they wanted to. But a lot of counties are just not providing the level of service that the state used to provide, and that has led to a patchwork of services around Minnesota."

Webster says the report recommends that emergency assistance be funded to cover basic family emergency needs. It's especially vital with today's struggling state and national economy.

Deborah Schlick with the Affirmative Options Coalition of Minnesota says the study confirms what she's been seeing: A little bit of help to those in need goes a long way. And by the same token, cutting off that help has enormous consequences for families in an economic pinch.

"You don't get the help unless the utility company has said, 'We're shutting off your electricity.' Or your landlord has said, 'If you can't come up with this check, we're kicking you out on the street.' So this literally is the last stop before having to go to the homeless shelter."

Losing this safety net had huge consequences for families in need, Schlick says.

"We need every resource available to keep families in their home. You don't keep a job, you don't keep kids in school, you don't keep chaos at bay, unless you can keep people in their home."

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MN