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Report: MN Families on the Edge Face Barriers to Assistance

April 29, 2010

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Many struggling families in the upper Midwest are simply not getting the help they need. A new report from the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota (CDF) documents the barriers families face when trying to access work support programs, including health care, child care assistance, food support, and energy assistance.

Jim Koppel, CDF's director, says these programs are especially critical during economic recessions.

"Right now, we have a lot of families who are in need of these work support programs for the first time in their lives. They've lost jobs in the economy and they've run out of their personal safety nets."

Koppel says the significant barriers include excessive co-payments, long waiting periods or waiting lists, and complicated application procedures. He says lawmakers need to look at solutions to break down those barriers.

"We have a lot of new families coming into the system who don't understand these applications; they are burdensome; they are hard to get through, and a report like this outlines a pathway for states to make these programs more accessible."

The report also reveals that Minnesota loses out on millions of federal dollars each year. Koppel says Minnesota ranks near the bottom in terms of money the state pays into federal taxes versus the amount of money that comes back to Minnesota, largely because the work support programs are underutilized by the families that need them the most.

"Because only half the families eligible for food stamps use food stamps, all of that federal money stays in Washington and doesn't come to Minnesota. It doesn't come to families who need it, doesn't come to children who are hungry, and doesn't come to communities where that money would be spent."

CDF recommends improving access to work support programs, saying it not only would help families get back on their feet, but it would help boost local economies. The full report is online at www.cdf-mn.org.

Sharon Rolenc/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - MN