- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Michelle Halonen works full time at a Hopkins gas station and still struggles to support her two young daughters.

They’re one of nearly 33,000 families receiving monthly help from the Minnesota Family Investment Program, designed to help low-income families reach financial stability. A family of three such as Halonen’s receives about $532 per month in cash for help with housing, transportation and other necessities.

The grant amounts have stayed flat for nearly 30 years. There’s a bipartisan push at the Legislature this year to increase the grants by $100 per month to help Minnesotans such as Halonen deal with rising transportation and housing costs.

“I do work full time and do everything to provide for my children,” Halonen said. “Unfortunately right now, that’s not enough.”

But the push to raise the grants, supported by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and some lawmakers in both parties, could stall in the state House. Leaders there want to slim health and human services spending, which would make it hard for the state to plug a roughly $68 million hole in other programs that increasing the grants would create.

Rep. Matt Dean, the Republican chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said he’s looked at the proposal. But It will have to compete with other priorities, he said, like more funding targeted at the state’s disabled population.

“We have some tough decisions to make,” the Dellwood Republican said. “It’s a very expensive ask, and it’s in competition with other bills.”

An extra $100 every month would help Halonen buy new shoes for her 4-year-old daughter and small items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, she said. Halonen, who started on the program in February, plans to go back to college once both her daughters are in school. She made it halfway to a degree in secondary math education at St. Cloud State University.

Jessica Webster, an attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Legal Services Advocacy Project, said the $100 increase is overdue.

“Even though $100 doesn’t solve the problem, it would make a meaningful difference to families,” she said.

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