Navigating the welfare systemby Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Thousands of low-income Minnesotans survive on income from a mixture of different state and federal welfare programs. Recipients say that navigating the different programs can be confusing. Here's a guide to the main programs that serve residents living in poverty.
General Assistance (GA)
The General Assistance program provides up to $203 a month in cash payments to disabled or ill childless adults living in extreme poverty. The program is the only source of income for many homeless Minnesotans.
There is no limit on the number of years a person can receive assistance, but recipients use the program for an average of 16 months.
A report by the state's Department of Human Services found that the typical GA-eligible person is a 43-year-old white man who has never married and has a high school diploma.
The number of households receiving General Assistance has increased by 47 percent since 2002. The grant amount has not increased since 1986.
Emergency General Assistance (EGA) The Emergency General Assistance program provides cash assistance for poor Minnesotans in crisis. Over 16,000 people, including 3,569 children, used the program to prevent eviction, utility shut-offs and other crises in the 2008 fiscal year.
Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP)
The Minnesota Family Investment Program, commonly called MFIP, provides monthly cash, food grants and job counseling for low-income families and pregnant women. Participants can access the program for 60 months, although the state does grant extensions in some situations.
Last year, 35,689 households received MFIP. The grant amounts vary. For example, a single mother with two children receives $532 in cash and $473 in food support each month.
MFIP participants are typically required to spend 30 hours a week participating in work activities or looking for a job. They are required to take any "suitable" job offer, with some exceptions.
Diversionary Work Program (DWP)
The Diversionary Work Program is a four-month program that provides monthly payments and job counseling to adults with children. The program's goal is to help parents find employment quickly rather than enroll in MFIP. Last December, 4,209 people used the program and received an average monthly grant of $364.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Supplemental Security Income is a federal program for impoverished elderly and disabled people. Participants receive $674 a month. An average of 81,178 Minnesotans received SSI in the last fiscal year.
Minnesota Supplemental Aid (MSA)
The MSA program provides monthly cash grants to several groups of low-income adults, including elderly, blind, and disabled Minnesotans. The money is meant to supplement recipient's incomes to meet their basic needs. Many recipients also receive federal payments from the Supplemental Security Income program.
Minnesota Supplemental Aid Special Diet Program (MSA-Special Diet)
About 5,000 low-income, elderly or disabled Minnesotans rely on the Minnesota Supplemental Aid Special Diet Program to help pay for special diets prescribed by a doctor. The average payment was $77 per month in June 2009.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP is the new name for food stamps. The federal program, also known as food support, provides monthly grants for people earning less than 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline. For example, a single mother with two children cannot have more than $23,803 in monthly income. The program also requires that recipients have less than $7,000 in assets, not including vehicles.
As of March, 195,760 households were receiving an average monthly food grant of $262.60.