County Board agrees to expand MFIP

Better to fix a worker's car to get to work than lose the job and end up back on public assistance, Beltrami County commissioners said this week. Commissioners on Tuesday agreed with staff recommendations to enlarge services under the Minnesota F...

Better to fix a worker's car to get to work than lose the job and end up back on public assistance, Beltrami County commissioners said this week.

Commissioners on Tuesday agreed with staff recommendations to enlarge services under the Minnesota Family Investment Program, which provides public assistance to poor families.

The program's goal is to provide assistance to families until they get back on their feet and, to participate, they must continue to show progress such as in obtaining job skills and work.

Once they get off public assistance, the second goal is to keep them off public assistance.

But that's not always possible, Wanda Melgaard, program team leader, told commissioners. Something may happen, such as the new worker's car breaks down and they are unable to get to work, lose their job, and end up back on MFIP.


Since Jan. 1, 15 percent of those enrolling in MFIP were returning because they lost a job, Melgaard said. "It's starting to be a problem."

Beltrami County Human Services contracts with Rural Minnesota CEP to provide MFIP training and assistance to get clients into work and off MFIP.

"MFIP clients who leave MFIP as employed persons may experience situations that make it difficult to keep their jobs," according to a memo given commissioners. "If those situations cannot be resolved, it is likely they will lose the job and be back on MFIP."

The three commissioners present Tuesday -- Quentin Fairbanks, Jim Heltzer and Joe Vene -- agreed with staff and authorized a contract addendum with Rural Minnesota CEP to provide post-MFIP termination services in an attempt to reduce recidivism.

"We would like to offer services for up to one year after they leave MFIP," Melgaard said. "We could fix a vehicle and keep people on the job as opposed to losing the car and the job and have them back on MFIP."

Services would be extended to those who are below 200 percent of poverty, she said.

"The intent is to tell individuals when they leave MFIP as employed persons that the service may be available to help them keep their jobs," states the memo. Rural Minnesota CEP, after an assessment, may provide services "for such things as car repairs, insurance, bus passes, emergency child care, tools, uniforms, trade licenses, etc."

It wouldn't be an unending pot, however, as "this provision will not be utilized if funds are low because serving current MFIP clients is our first priority," the memo said.


"These people aren't waxing rich off of this program," said Commissioner Heltzer. "It seems a reasonable request."

The issue isn't without detractors, however. Beltrami County Republicans at their convention earlier this month passed a resolution about the Rural Minnesota CEP program, agreeing that "the state shall not fund a program where those who are on welfare have their vehicle tows and repair paid for by the state with taxpayers' money. Isn't there such a thing as the city bus?"

The measure was approved by GOP delegates, despite pleas for showing "compassionate conservatism."

"This is a necessity for those who fall within this category," one delegate said. "These are people who are willing to go to work and we need to support them as much as we can."

But another delegate said government "needs to curb abuse. It's not wise to spend $5,000 on car repairs."

Commissioners on Tuesday also approved another contract addendum with Rural Minnesota CEP to allow the program to continue to work with youth who are placed in jobs but would lose them when the parent leaves MFIP.

The youth get job counseling and jobs where MFIP pays the wages through the Families Achieving Success Together program. The priority group are families with children 14 or older, with a goal of providing the youth a positive experience and the value of work.

Sometimes when an MFIP case closes because the parent obtains a job and reaches the income threshold, the youth must stop working, the memo said. "This sends a negative message to the youth about work."


"How many unintended consequences are created?" asked Commissioner Vene. "It makes no sense to drop the child. We talk all the time about recidivism, and here is an opportunity to make something happen to cut down recidivism."

Commissioners agreed to allow CEP to support the youth on the worksite up to six weeks beyond the closing of the MFIP case. During that time, the job counselor will work with the youth to find unsubsidized employment or work with the family to develop a plan for what the youth will do with the time previously spent working.

As the program is funded with state and federal monies, the extension won't cost county dollars, the memo said.

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