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MN's Community Agencies Can Stretch Dollars a Little Further

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Monday, July 12, 2021   

ONAMIA, Minn. -- Helping Minnesotans escape poverty requires behind-the-scenes work, often done by community action agencies on shoestring budgets. Now, they're getting a funding boost, including tribal governments.

Community action agencies facilitate a variety of services, like job placement and rental assistance. The new state budget increases their annual grant by $1 million each year, with tribal nations now getting an equal share under a revised funding formula.

Tammy Wickstrom, executive director of Aanjibimaadizing, a resource program for Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, said they mostly use their annual grant for youth programming, and more equitable funding will go a long way.

"We're really focusing on supplies and activities that the kids aren't necessarily going to get in a public school or in another setting," Wickstrom explained.

Her agency's annual grant of $25,000 will double. Other local offices say the grants help them assist clients even beyond traditional needs, such as helping with car insurance costs, so they can travel to a much-needed job.

Many cover several counties, and limited funding makes it hard to reach every low-income resident and address their unique circumstances.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, helped secure the additional funding. He said the agencies are mostly invisible to the public eye, but hopes they get more attention in light of the pandemic. In an era of divided government, the Republican describes the budget action as a breakthrough.

"When people consider politics, they think of it as sparring and arguing," Abeler acknowledged. "But that debate that happens in politics actually generates agencies like this that are committed to doing the people's work, and they really do a good job of it, on a pretty lean budget."

Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, which oversees local agencies, said the increase comes after years of funding declines for the grant, and noted the extra money can help advance the agencies' post-pandemic work.

"This was really a specific moment in time where agencies stepped up to make sure that people were able to stay safely housed, to make sure that people have access to food," Shapiro stated.

She added they can now start to focus on longer-term recovery efforts for low-income Minnesotans.

Disclosure: Minnesota Community Action Association Resource Fund contributes to our fund for reporting on Early Childhood Education, Health Issues, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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