DFL legislator says welfare policy penalizes women who have a miscarriageby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — A key DFL lawmaker has asked the state to change a policy that limits welfare benefits for mothers who suffer a miscarriage.
State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed an amendment on Tuesday that would remove what she calls an unintended and obscure barrier to welfare benefits.
Under current law, in many cases welfare officials can deny cash grants for children who are born to a mother who suffered a previous miscarriage while on welfare.
"It's pretty rare, but it is sad when it does happen," said Jessica Webster, a policy advocate with Legal Aid. The agency has represented clients who have challenged the welfare policy.
Webster said that the denials are the result of a complicated and often confusing welfare system.
Currently, a pregnant woman can receive assistance from the state's family welfare program, called the Minnesota Family Investment Program. The program provides a monthly cash grant and other benefits for families living in poverty.
If the woman miscarries and does not already have other children, she would lose her MFIP assistance. She could then apply for welfare programs for single adults.
Berglin said the problem occurs if the woman becomes pregnant again and reapplies for MFIP. In many cases, the woman would not be able to receive cash assistance for that child or for any future children.
The restriction is a result of the "family cap" statute passed in 2003. The state statute says that many parents can only receive cash assistance for the number of children they had when they applied for welfare.
Legal advocates for the poor say the "family cap" does not distinguish between live births and miscarried fetuses.
As a result, when a woman suffers a miscarriage, the welfare system could permanently view her as a woman with one child and "cap" her benefits at that level. If the woman becomes pregnant again and reapplies for welfare, the state could deny cash assistance for her new child.
Berglin said the statute was intended to restrict assistance for women who have children while on welfare, but that a small number of women who suffer a miscarriage have also been affected.
The amendment passed through the Senate Health and Human Services Budget Division on Tuesday for possible inclusion in the state's omnibus bill. Advocates for the poor say they are optimistic that lawmakers will approve the change.