Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #068. First published in the St. Cloud Times Mar. 26, 2013

Columnists sometimes feel like what President Harry Truman said about President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, moving from Army chain of command to political tangle: “He’ll sit here and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen.”

Often we offer our opinions, even our advice, hoping to have a detectable effect — and nothing happens. But sometimes it does. And that is why we write — to motivate people to advocate for positive change.

In May, I wrote about human trafficking, a worldwide scourge from which Minnesota is not exempt.

In December, I wrote about homelessness, and noted the Interfaith Children’s Advocacy Network — whose advisory council I chair and which represents religious communities (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim) that include 80 percent of Minnesotans who claim a religious identity — had among its 2013 legislative policy recommendations the passage of the Family Economic Security Act to enhance earnings for low-income parents.

Moving forward

Here it is March, and moving forward in the Legislature are bills dealing with these very issues.

Senate File 384/House File 485, the “Safe Harbor — No Wrong Door” bill, would improve the Safe Harbor Act, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011, by appropriating $13 million over two years to form a network of specialized victim services, including case management, housing, health care, language interpretation and legal services. Additionally, receipt of services would not be conditioned on victims’ nationality, immigration status, or participation in investigating the traffickers. Finally, the upper age of trafficked minors treated as victims, not offenders, would go from 15 to 17.

The Family Economic Security Act (SF 390/HF 430) is based on the work of the bipartisan Legislative Commission to End Poverty. It would finally begin to deal with this staggering statistic: It costs a family of three (one adult and two children) about $46,000 a year to meet basic needs, yet a parent working full-time earning Minnesota’s minimum wage earns only $13,000 a year.

The Family Economic Security Act raises the minimum wage, phased in during two years, to $9.50 for large employers, $8.25 for small employers, and $7.50 for the training wage. Additionally, it institutes a state child tax credit of $100 a child annually and increases the Working Family Credit, as well as funding child care for working families up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

From the perspective of the interfaith network, the moral argument for this act is it improves the health and well-being of Minnesota children by increasing the economic security of their families. Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims agree: To do good for children is a moral imperative.

But there is an economic argument as well. The Urban Institute simulated a proposal similar to the Act, and found:

  • 287,000 fewer Minnesotans, including 89,000 children, living in or near poverty — a 27 percent decrease;
  • 35,000 additional Minnesotans in the workforce;
  • $2.6 billion in annual government savings;
  • and $10 billion annual increase in net wages.

No more 'Can't do's

Paul Wellstone’s motto, “We all do better when we all do better,” is not just progressive politics. It’s sound economics.

Delving back even further into my columns, I wrote in April of 2011 in praise of the then-recent pastoral letter, “So you also should do,” by St. Cloud Bishop John F. Kinney. He draws on the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching, and much of what he says has direct bearing on what is before the Legislature.

While he acknowledges that we need to be charitable, the bishop forthrightly declares that “unjust wages” — the current minimum wage, he notes, does not provide a livable income — “lack of health care, inaccessible child care, unjust immigration laws, discrimination, unfair farm prices and policies, unaffordable housing, policies that disrupt family life and security — these and many other wrongs must be confronted on a policy level.”

For too many years we’ve been hearing from the Capitol about what Minnesota can’t do. Let your legislators know you want them to “do this” and “do that.” It’s time to see something happen.