More Minn. Welfare Reforms Take Effect Sept. 16
More reforms are coming to Minnesota's welfare system with changes to how cards are printed, distributed, and who can access the cash portion of a household's benefits all beginning Sept. 16, 2012.
"We want to make sure that the dollars go where they're intended to go," Erin Sullivan Sutton, an assistant commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in an interview Thursday.
Among the changes that take effect this month:
- EBT cards, which are pre-loaded every month - like a debit card - with a person's welfare benefits such as cash assistance and food stamps, will now be printed with the name of the head of household. Previously, no names were printed on the EBT cards;
- Only the head of household card will be able to access the cash portion of a person's benefits, including General Assistance, for withdrawal at ATMs and for use on any item. Other cards in a family will still have access to food stamp benefits, officially known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program;
- New cards will no longer be available as replacements at county offices, except in limited circumstances. Instead, cards will be printed at a vendor with the head of household name and mailed to the recipient within 30 days;
- Replacement cards will now incur a $2 fee. The changes to replacement cards are, in part, intended to lower Minnesota's rate of replacement cards, which is the fourth-highest in the nation. A high rate of replacement cards could indicate a number of lost, stolen, or illegally sold cards for cash, experts say.
Further changes to be implemented in 2013 include purchases with the cash portion of a person's benefits will be restricted to all but Minnesota and the surrounding states of Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and North Dakota (food stamp funds will still be able to be spent nationwide, as required by federal law). DHS will also begin receiving drug conviction data which may reduce or eliminate benefits for those people guilty of a felony drug crime.
The latest reforms were passed by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton during the 2012 Legislative session.
"We really need to watch the data and see what kind of savings we get from (the reforms)," said Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) on Thursday, "and see how the system's working. If there are other changes that need to be made at that time, I think we absolutely owe it to the taxpayers to make those changes."
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