Historic MFIP Increase to Take Effect February 2020

Jessica Webster, Legal Services Advocacy Project

Jessica Webster, Legal Services Advocacy Project

For the first time in 33 years, Minnesota’s most vulnerable will see an increase in their Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) benefit. Minnesota was one of 3 states that hadn’t increased its cash assistance benefit to low-income families since 1986 (Oklahoma and Arizona being the others). The historic increase of $100 per month will take effect in February of next year, thanks in part to the long-standing efforts of Jessica Webster and the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, other community advocates and bipartisan state legislators.

“Minnesota should reform the program with regular cost-of-living adjustments of 1 or 2% so another couple of decades do not pass without an increase,” said Webster, staff attorney with LSAP.

For more about how Minnesota got here and what is sought for the future, read the full article in the Star Tribune: Minnesota's neediest families to see first MFIP cash increase in 33 years.

SMRLS Prevails in Appeal Holding Recipients of Housing Support Harmless for Overpayments

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In an appeal interpreting new law by Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), a Human Services Judge concluded that recipients of Housing Support (formerly Group Residential Housing, or GRH) are to be held harmless for overpayments.  The judge also determined that Ramsey County, acting on instructions from the state Department of Human Services (DHS), had incorrectly determined that SMRLS' client's agency-error overpayment of $97 in General Assistance was collectable.

The client, a resident in a GRH facility since March 2017, worked for temporary agencies and properly reported her income, but her county worker got confused because she reported the jobs as if the work site, rather than the temporary agency, was the employer.  The county originally assessed more than $5000 in overpayments.  After SMRLS got involved, the county reduced the overpayment to $1400 in Housing Support plus $97 in GA (representing one month's grant).

Minn. Stat. 256P.08, which establishes uniform overpayment and underpayment procedures for several state public benefit programs, became effective in 2016.  It says that GA recipients are not responsible for agency-error overpayments "unless the amount of the overpayment is large enough that a reasonable person would know it is an error."  DHS issued instructions to counties saying overpayments are collectable if the overpaid amount exceeds the correct grant amount for the month.  Because the client's correct grant amount for GA should have been $0, Ramsey County concluded that the $97 overpayment was collectable.  The Human Services Judge held that DHS had applied the wrong standard and that the $97 overpayment was not large enough to make the client responsible for it.

Minn. Stat. 256P.08 also states that recipients of Housing Support "are exempt from this section."  No other provision of law grants the state or county authority to collect Housing Support overpayments.  DHS has written instructions to counties on its CountyLink website that mirror the overpayment procedures in Minn. Stat. 256P.08, except for the provision that forgives agency error overpayments.  The Human Services Judge concluded that this guidance is not supported by legal authority and that the apparent intent of the legislature was to hold Housing Support recipients harmless for overpayments.

Both Human Services Judge Kathleen McDonough, who decided the appeal, and Co-Chief Human Services Judge AmyLynne Hermanek, who approved the decision on behalf of the Commissioner, are former Legal Aid attorneys. The case is docket no. 197507.  For more information, contact staff attorney, Ben Weiss at ben.weiss@smrls.org

MMLA Among Advocates Supporting Proposed Section 8 Ordinance

If a proposed Minneapolis ordinance passes, it would mean more housing choices in low-poverty areas with good schools for those using Section 8 housing vouchers. Currently, landlords can legally turn away potential tenants using vouchers, though Minnesota law prohibits discrimination based on enrollment in public assistance. Landlords cite concerns about additional inspections and maintenance costs associated with the ordinance. 

Among those supporting passage of the ordinance are Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and HOME Line, a tenant advocacy group. Lael Robertson, supervising attorney with MMLA, noted landlords' freedom to continue screening tenants based on other criteria. 

“The purpose of the ordinance is not to require landlords to take vouchers,” Robertson said. “It really is to say, ‘Don’t deny them because they’re a voucher holder.’ There’s a difference there.”
Read the full Star Tribune article. 

State Allows Three More Months of SNAP for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents

MMLA Co-Chairs Help Guide New Policies Benefiting Vulnerable Adults

More than 48,000 lost their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits beginning in February, 2014, because Minnesota reinstituted time limits and mandatory work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) following expiration of its federal waiver.  Concerned community advocates requested that DHS form a taskforce to review and improve ABAWD policies and practices.  The ABAWD taskforce, formed in February 2015, was co-chaired by Kathleen Davis and Barbara Kuhn of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Colleen Moriarity of Hunger Solutions and included representatives from the Department of Human Services, Department of Employment and Economic Development, community-based service providers, community advocates and philanthropists.

Following the recommendations of the taskforce, the state has implemented several changes to the "fitness to work" criteria which enables people to prove they are unable to work, and thus exempt from the time limits and work requirements. The state also adopted a policy that allows people who have used up their three months of SNAP to reapply and receive three additional months, if they demonstrate some progress towards addressing their barriers to work.  This policy is in effect now and advocates should spread the word that ABAWD people who lost SNAP since February 2014 should go to their local county office and reapply (see DHS Bulletin #15-01-01). For the complete list of recommendations, see the Taskforce Recommendations report, and for a general legal summary of changes, click here.