Concerns on state budget, gratitude for marriage bill

| May 24, 2011 | 1 Comment

Minnesota Catholic Conference continues work on priorities as special session looms

Maria Wallander of Hastings joined a crowd of hundreds that turned out to voice their opinions about the marriage amendment being debated in the Minnesota House May 19. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

As state legislators appear headed to a special session to complete the unfinished business of passing a state budget, the Minnesota Cath­olic Conference is working to ensure that a final agreement meets the needs of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

In the meantime, it expressed gratitude to lawmakers who voted in favor of a marriage amendment bill that was among the MCC’s top legislative priorities.

Ready for dialogue

“We are thankful to the Legislature for passing this amendment bill,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the MCC, the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota. “It is an opportunity to have a serious and respectful conversation about the future of marriage in our state, just as voters in 31 other states have been able to do.

“I’m also grateful for the support of our bishops and the contributions of all Catholics who called their legislators and who showed up in a very tense environment at the Capitol to voice their prayerful and peaceful support of the marriage amendment,” he added. “Without their prayers and support, this may not have gotten done.”

Following an emotional floor debate, the Minnesota House passed a measure May 21 by a vote of 70-62 that will put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2012 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The Senate has already passed the bill. The measure is not subject to a veto by the governor.

Over the course of the next 18 months, the MCC and other amendment supporters will put together a plan to educate the public about the importance of the amendment and begin raising money to help get the message out, Adkins said.

Helping those in need

Alison Rusche, 13, holds a sign during an event May 22 at the State Capitol where participants called for continued budget negotiations to preserve General Assistance and the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

On the topic of the state budget, lawmakers failed to reach agreement with Gov. Mark Dayton on a plan to fix a $5 billion shortfall before the end of the regular session last Monday. Now a special session looms to finish the job, but much remains uncertain.


“No one knows when a special session is going to be called. No one knows how it is going to shake down. No one has guesses on what the final deal is going to be. Everything is very uncertain now,” said Katie Conlin, the MCC’s interim social concerns director.

“At this point, what really needs to happen is that legislators need to hear from their constituents about what the priorities should be and where the compromises should be made,” she said.

The MCC is working to ensure that a final budget agreement protects the poor and disabled, Conlin said. More than 40,000 poor Minnesotans with disabilities and serious illnesses would be at risk of losing some or all of their assistance under a health and human services bill passed last week by the Legislature.

The MCC is focusing its efforts on opposing cuts to General Assistance and the Minnesota Family Investment Pro­gram, Conlin said.

The Legislature’s proposal would eliminate the GA program and cut support to those families on MFIP with disabled adult household members, according to the MCC. GA and its companion emergency programs would be replaced with an option for counties to set up adult assistance programs. This combined program would be funded by a block grant totaling $20 million less than forecasted funding needs for the existing adult assistance programs.

In order to qualify for GA, applicants must be unable to work.  Individuals on GA receive $203 per month to cover housing and other basic needs.

Some 19,000 Minnesotans on GA are unemployable adults with medically certified disabilities or illnesses, according to the MCC. GA demand has gone up in recent years due in part to the economic downturn. Many of the adults receiving GA are awaiting a decision on their application for federal disability benefits.

The cut to MFIP families with disabled adults will result in a $50 reduction in monthly assistance for those families, the MCC said. MFIP grants already do not include funds for any family member receiving federal disability benefits.

The MCC said other budget balancing options, such as ending corporate subsidies and unnecessary tax breaks, should be considered before programs that help provide basic needs for the poor and disabled are eliminated or cut.

Other issues

» Education: The MCC is supporting a scholarship program for low-income families and a tuition tax credit proposal (see “Faith in the Public Arena” column, below).

» Abortion: The MCC supported a bill that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks gestation as well as a proposal to eliminate state taxpayer funding of abortion.

The education and abortion proposals have passed through the Legislature and, as this edition of The Catholic Spirit went to press, were awaiting action by the governor. If vetoed, the measures could resurface during the special session.

Adkins encourages Catholics to contact their legislators and the governor to voice their views on all of these issues, especially to thank those who voted for the marriage amendment.  For updated information about any of these issues, visit the MCC website at, where you can also sign up for action alerts from the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network (MNCAN).

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