Joint Religious Legislative Coalition's 2021 Legislative Summary
Background: Minnesota needs more affordable housing! And the pandemic really highlighted the importance of emergency shelter and the severe lack of funding for these services.
In addition, many Minnesotans had difficulty making rent payments. This raised concerns about evictions once the eviction moratorium is lifted and keeping the housing we have viable - without payments, many landlords would struggle to stay in business.
- Bonding - the Housing bill contains funding for debt services on $100 million in bonds for affordable housing.
- Emergency Shelter - $2 million over the biennium for shelter capital.
- Emergency Shelter - Emergency Services Program (ESP) - $12 million over the biennium for the Emergency Services Program that shelters rely on for a wide variety of needs - staffing, hotels, food, transportation and others; the last budget allocated less than $1 million per year.
- These funds are significant commitment to addressing homelessness an the statewide lack of housing.
Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP)
Background: Many of you have long-time advocates for MFIP, the program that supports Minnesotan's poorest children and families. Many of these low-wage parents work in retail and hospitality and have been hit hard by the pandemic. For at least 15 years advocates have tried to get a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for these families, guaranteeing the benefit doesn't lose value each year.
- One-time $475 emergency cash payment to families accessing MFIP
- Ongoing, annual cost of living adjustment to the cash grant.
Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP)
Background: The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) provides financial assistance to low-income families so parents can work or pursue education, and children can receive nurturing care in a safe, stable environment. CCAP is the state's largest program serving infants and toddlers. Minnesota currently reimburses providers at the 25th percentile of market rates - the lowest possible level to be in federal compliance. The federal recommendation is the 75th percentile - and Minnesota used to be there. We currently have approximately 2900 families on the waiting list.
- Raise provider reimbursements rates for infants and toddlers (the most expensive) to the 40th percentile.
- Increases rates for all other children to the 30th percentile
- Rates will be updated to reflect new market surveys in 2022 and 2025
- Changes in how the waiting list for CCAP is handled, allowing more families to access this important benefit
- $15 million per year over the next four years to move more families off the waiting list and into economic stability.
Addressing Fees and Fines for Low Income Minnesotans
Background: The ability to build assets and a financial safety net is key for low-income households to weather challenges ranging from necessary car repairs to a medical crisis. An unexpected fine or fee, thought manageable for some households, can be insurmountable for low-income Minnesotans. Recognizing this burden, courts have the authority to waive, reduce or substitute community service for all or part of a traffic fee or fine in cases of financial hardship.
The state imposes an additional $75 surcharge on all traffic and criminal violations. Currently courts do not have the discretion to address this surcharge.
Change: The Public Safety bill changes this. Judges may now reduce or waive the $75 state surcharge on traffic and criminal violations in cases of financial hardship or offer a community service option.
Driver's License Suspension Reform
Background: Under current Minnesota law, when individuals cannot pay a traffic fee or fine, their licenses are suspended. These are not dangerous drivers - they simply don't have the funds needed to pay. In many cases, they are struggling to meet their basic needs. In greater Minnesota, many people cannot travel to work or meet familial obligations without a license.
Changes: The practice of driver's license suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets will end this year. This means the Minnesota Department of Public Safety will issue 144,000 fewer driver's license suspensions next year.
Joint Religious Legislative Coalition's 2021 Legislative Agenda
COVID-19 Relief – Housing Assistance Program
Many individuals are also facing huge challenges as a result of the pandemic. The current housing assistance expires at the end of December. The JRLC will advocate for a continuation of current housing relief – current provisions provide for payments to be made directly to a landlord, bank, credit union or utility company.
Driver’s License Suspension/Fines
Fees and fines from traffic violations strip assets from low-income communities. Tacked-on surcharges drive up the cost of a basic traffic ticket to well over $100 – a hardship for many families. We support legislation stopping the practice of driver’s license suspension for nonpayment alone and granting courts authority to waive, reduce or substitute community service for any traffic fines.
Child Care Assistance
The Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) helps low- and moderate-income families with child care costs so they can work or go to school. It is the state’s largest program serving infants and toddlers. Minnesota needs to work to increase the reimbursement rates for providers (which have dropped significantly over the last seven years) and to fund the program adequately to eliminate the current waiting list of families.
Tiny House Legislation
The JRLC supports exploring numerous options to address the homeless crisis in our state. Minnesota law does not currently allow tiny houses as permanent housing unless they have running water with a bathroom and kitchen. Some faith communities want to create small tiny house housing communities with shared bathroom and kitchen facilities, with each unit having a compostable toilet. We support a very limited change in Minnesota law to allow places of worship or non-profits to build a tiny house community.
Maternal Mortality and Morbidity/Access to Medicaid Data
Low income women and women of color are significantly more likely to die during or after childbirth. JRLC supports expanded efforts to identify women who had serious medical complications or died as a result of childbirth, and allow a broader review of prenatal care in order to improve outcomes. In addition, we support allowing the Department of Health to review Medical Assistance data on maternal mortality and morbidity in order to improve the quality of care for these mothers.
Hate and bias crimes have no place in our state. We support laws to protect victims and provide support to law enforcement. Our Board will be reviewing specific bills as they are introduced to determine whether to support and if so, the level of support.
Housing – Bonding for Emergency Shelter
Across Minnesota, the need for emergency shelter is far greater than supply. The JRLC supports bonding to fund emergency shelter in our state.
Advocate against cuts to safety net programs
As policy makers make difficult budget decisions, it is important that those programs serving our most vulnerable Minnesotans are protected. Programs like Medical Assistance (Medicaid), MinnesotaCare and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are vital to low-income Minnesotans.
Fighting Gambling expansion
The JRLC opposes expansion of lawful gambling, whether legalizing sports gambling, daily fantasy sports or online gambling.