Plaintiffs happy with ruling: 'What Pawlenty did was wrong'by Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Low-income residents expressed relief over the Minnesota Supreme Court's ruling Wednesday against Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cuts to a nutrition program.
"I could not feel any better right now," said De'Anna Brayton. "This is just wonderful."
Brayton, of Coon Rapids, was one of six plaintiffs in the lawsuit that challenged the governor's unallotment powers. The state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Wednesday that Pawlenty overstepped his authority when he cut over $5 million from the program.
About 5,000 low-income, disabled Minnesotans like Brayton rely on the Minnesota Supplemental Aid Special Diet Program to help pay for special food prescribed by a doctor.
Brayton struggles with several medical conditions, including diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, traumatic brain injury and high cholesterol. She is unable to work and survives on her $674 monthly Supplemental Security Income check.
The nutrition program provides another $334.40 to help Brayton afford to follow the lactose and gluten-free diet prescribed by her doctor. She estimates that she spends about $400 a month on groceries.
"When you're on these special diets, you have to have them," Brayton said. "And Governor Pawlenty didn't care. It made me physically sick."
Darlene Bullock, another plaintiff in the suit, said the court's decision means she can stop worrying about whether she'll be able to afford healthy food. Bullock had triple bypass surgery in 2005 and follows a low-cholesterol, high-protein diet.
"I had a lot of anxiety," she said. "It's been very frustrating."
Plaintiff Debra Branley said she was "absolutely elated" when she learned of the court's ruling.
"It's about time," she said. "I don't think [Pawlenty] knows what it really feels like to be there. I personally would like to see him live off ... food stamps for the month."
Deborah Schlick, executive director of the anti-poverty advocacy group Affirmative Options, said the ruling shows the power that poor people have when they fight back.
"So often low-income Minnesotans and the resources they need are dismissed in the political process as sort of small players," Schlick said. "It's a reminder that nobody's a small player."
Despite the ruling, other welfare programs face an uncertain future.
The state Supreme Court did not address the governor's previous unallotment of the state's Emergency General Assistance program. The program provides cash grants to help poor and disabled Minnesotans facing eviction, utility shutoffs, or other crises.
The governor has also proposed cutting other welfare programs, including a cash grant program for poor and disabled adults.
Brayton and other low-income Minnesotans say they hope to continue their fight against cuts to the state's poorest residents.
"What Pawlenty did was wrong, and I will never forget this," Brayton said.