Bill for stricter Minn. welfare rules stalls

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ST. PAUL — A plan that would require people new to Minnesota to wait two months rather than one before receiving welfare benefits stalled Tuesday in the Minnesota Senate amid legal concerns.

The bill is one of several in play this year to stiffen welfare requirements or hold recipients to tougher accountability standards. Republicans are pushing the changes, they say, as cost-saving and fraud-prevention measures, but Democratic lawmakers are resisting them as degrading to society’s poorest.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, agreed to the waiting-period legislation on hold after a spirited back-and-forth with opponents about its practicality. The bill was under consideration by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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It would have doubled an existing 30-day residency requirement before someone could access state-provided welfare assistance, using anecdotal reports to argue that the state is a magnet for people seeking more generous help.

“I do want to prevent those coming to Minnesota getting that benefit automatically that we have reserved for Minnesotans,” he said.

His bill also would have required that debit-style benefit cards include a recipient’s photograph.

Advocates for welfare recipients said concerns over benefits-driven migration were unfounded. They also pointed to court cases that found some waiting limits to be unconstitutional because of hardships caused.