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Pioneer Editorial: Welfare vs. poverty a valid issue

Two different reports released last week prove the dichotomy we have in welfare versus poverty.

Welfare spending in Minnesota is among the highest in the nation, according to new U.S. Census figures. And it's been growing steadily for more than a decade, an Associated Press report said. Nearly 23 percent of all state and local government spending in Minnesota during fiscal 2007 went toward services that can be termed as welfare.

Only Maine at 24.3 percent and Rhode Island at 23.7 percent were higher.

The report said $9.3 billion of the $40.6 billion spent by all levels of government in the state in 2007 was on welfare programs.

In the second report, issued by the Children's Defense Fund, the number of Minnesota children in poverty remains high and costs Minnesota an estimated $5.7 billion a year. CDF's annual Kids Count data book found that 140,000 Minnesota children lived in poverty in 2008 -- more than a 20 percent increase since 2000.

The report said that 11 percent of Minnesota children lived in poverty in 2008. In the latest available county figures, 24.1 percent of the children in Beltrami County lived in poverty in 2007, more than twice the already high state figure.

So what are we to make of the data?

Minnesota is a high spender in welfare benefits, yet the state still has record-high levels of children in poverty. Do we spend so much because we can't get a handle on rising poverty levels? Or is it no matter how much we spend, we aren't solving the problem?

As we enter an election year with nearly two dozen gubernatorial candidates, the question of what would they do to reform welfare takes on new meaning. It's not so simple to just cut benefits or tighten eligibility. Nor is it prudent to continue to raise the welfare budget in hopes of reaching all in poverty.

Part of the problem is rising health costs, so health care reform is also key.

With limited state resources and a recession, adding more to the welfare budget is out of the question. Yet we also can't continue to let more children slide into poverty. It is a true dilemma for which all candidates must offer their solutions.

It's a debate that we look forward to having.