Listen: Rally at the mansion by poor people

MPR’s Tom Meersman reports on social justice protests being held outside the Governor’s mansion. Protesters are concerned that cut of Minnesota’s Work Readiness Program will intensify issue of homelessness.


1992 MNSPJ Page One Award, second place in Excellence in Journalism - Radio Spot News category


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ALL: Stop the war on the poor. Stop the war on the poor. Stop the war--

TOM MEERSMAN: Outside the governor's mansion on Summit Avenue, 40 people chanted and held signs on a clear and frigid afternoon with windchill temperatures well below zero. Some of the people said they want jobs, but can't find them. Others who work for social justice groups said, Governor Arne Carlson and the legislature made a big mistake when they cut benefits for Minnesota's Work Readiness program. Pam Marshall of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless said the budget reductions will literally put people out on the street this winter.

PAM MARSHALL: 6,000 people were cut off-- received their last check November 1. But in the peak of the winter months from November 1 to February 1, 10,500 Minnesotans will lose their only source of income. Since they're living at $203 a month, it might not sound like much, but it does allow most of those folks to through shared-room occupancy or whatever to get some housing.

SPEAKER: The work readiness program is designed to provide job training and job search assistance for able-bodied single people or those who are married but don't have children. Earlier this year, the governor proposed limiting the monthly payments under that system to three consecutive months, and lawmakers compromised on five consecutive months with some exceptions.

Governor Carlson says Work Readiness was never intended to be an ongoing source of money for people. The state still provides welfare to those with children, says Carlson. But it can no longer afford continuous monthly payments for those who are able to work. The governor said as much to Chris Jacobs, Director of the Jobs Now Coalition, as she and half a dozen others approached him in the mansion during the open house.

SPEAKER 1: It's not enough governor. We need our governor to get behind us.

ARNE CARLSON: Well no, I think what you need the governor to do is to lead us out of a very difficult financial time. There are a lot of programs that we can't afford. This is one of them. Now we've given 12-months financial assistance to people who should have the capacity of working.

SPEAKER 1: They should, but--


--68,000 people looking for work officially in the state of Minnesota. I called your department [INAUDIBLE]. There are 14,000 job openings.

ARNE CARLSON: You've made your point.

SPEAKER 1: 68,000 to 14,000, governor. What did these people do?

ARNE CARLSON: There are jobs.

SPEAKER 2: There's not enough jobs. There's not enough jobs to go--

ARNE CARLSON: Well, good. If you put as much energy as the seeking those jobs as you do protesting, I think you'd be employed today.

SPEAKER 3: I am employed--


TOM MEERSMAN: The group was ushered out of the mansion, and no one resisted. Two other small groups from the rally also entered to see the governor and received similar treatment. After that, however, security guards said the governor would be available only for other members of the public who had come for the open house and were waiting to say hello to Carlson as they toured part of the mansion. Carlson said it was sad and unfortunate that people had to bring politics into an afternoon designated to celebrate the holidays.

Advocates for the poor and unemployed, however, said Carlson has only paid lip service to issues of poverty, and they have been rebuffed in their attempts to meet with him privately in other settings. The protesters continued their vigil on the sidewalk and promised to press for changes at the Capitol. Hundreds of other visitors were inside looking at the mansion's elaborate decorations and having their children meet with Santa Claus. I'm Tom Meersman.

SPEAKER 4: Why? Are you going to go downstairs? Are you going to go look downstairs?

SPEAKER 5: How do we get downstairs?

SPEAKER 4: Right there, and go down, and go through the [? basement. ?] We'll see you later. Bye.

[? SPEAKER 5: ?] Bye.


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