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Minnesota Republicans Want to Ban Poor People From Carrying Cash

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By HVnews on March 21, 2011

A new bill introduced by Minnesota State Republicans, which aims to prevent state welfare recipients from carrying more than $20 in cash, is the latest salvo on the war against the poor, which has seen national shots fired against the likes of Planned Parenthood, ACORN, and health-care reform.

Or so, Fight Back News would have you believe, which was then picked up and amplified by Crooks and Liars, Wonkette, Alternet and Freakout Nation.

Minnesota House File 171, introduced by Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), would indeed make it illegal for MFIP (one of Minnesota’s welfare programs) families to be able to withdraw more than $20 in cash per month from an ATM. Daudt introduced the bill as a knee-jerk reaction to a KSTP report about public assistance money being used at a casino.

The bill would also force families to use the state-issued debit card for all transactions, require a photo identification for all point of sales, make it illegal to purchase alcohol or tobacco with state funds, make it illegal for an non-authorized user to use the card and further, bar the debit cards from making purchases across state lines. Food purchases are the only exception to many of these clauses.

On March 15, Angel Buechner of the Welfare Rights Committee testified in front of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee on House File 171. Buechner told committee members, “We would like to address the provision that makes it illegal for MFIP [one of Minnesota’s welfare programs] families to withdraw cash from the cash portion of the MFIP grant – and in fact, appears to make it illegal for MFIP families to have any type of money at all in their pockets. How do you expect people to take care of business like paying bills such as lights, gas, water, trash and phone?”

The restrictions in the bill are a subtle salvo in the war against the poor. “This is in line with the GOP’s successful brand of dog whistle politics. The inner-city ‘young buck’ on welfare eating $20 t-bones while you work your butt off for that suburban McMansion is a staple,” says Joshua Holland.

Or, says Mona Allie: “GOPers in Minnesota seem to be suffering from memory loss; an unemployed person has to utilize public transit to go out in the world and be proactive in seeking work. Instead, they present the poor with isolation, not letting them use their debit card, sit home and not seek employment. The poor can stay poor because they don’t give a damn.”

Though these measures are intended to close wasteful spending by welfare families (some of the provisions actually do make good policy), the cash restriction has the unintended consequence of keeping families stuck in the purgatory of welfare by making it more difficult to get off the system and thus, keeping them on it. Add to that that many of these state issued debit cards come via large financial institutions and still carry the requisite fees and penalties with them, which lowers the actual amount of aid. Plus, the use restrictions to certain state-approved businesses means that recipients are hamstrung to shopping at state-approved businesses and not all free market businesses with the lowest prices.

Buechner testified, “We’ll leave you with this. It is not right to punish a whole group because of the supposed actions of a few. You in this room could have a pretty rough time if that was the case. It is not right to stigmatize and dehumanize women living the hard life of trying to raise children while living 60% below the poverty level. It is not right to use racist, bumper-sticker hate to inflict human misery for political gain.”

Jeff Fecke lay into this bill and its war against the poor: “Is there any evidence of the massive fraud that the GOP alleges? As usual, no, there isn’t. Yes, there’s a point at which a safety net becomes too comfortable. But the Minnesota GOP is now looking to make the safety net a noose, strangling those who dare to use it. Again and again, it’s a class war – with the rich attacking everyone else.”

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