Judge blocks state from welfare cut

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- Welfare revisions slated to take effect today are on hold after a county judge blocked the state from cutting benefits to thousands of low-income families.

Ramsey County District Judge Judith Tilsen halted the benefit cuts with a temporary restraining order Monday, saying she was concerned that some of the changes were being made without federal approval.

She also ordered the state to restore -- by July 14 -- any reductions that have been made already. The Department of Human Services already had calculated June payments with the changes in mind.

Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno said Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration believes the changes meet federal guidelines, but it won't appeal the order, which applies through July 21. That's the date Tilsen set for a hearing to consider a more lasting injunction.


Tilsen's order delays savings the state hoped for as part of a budget-balancing plan adopted in May. Besides the additional benefits themselves, Goodno said it will cost the state money to distribute the extra payments. He didn't quantify the higher costs.

When the judge's decision was announced, welfare recipients and their advocates in the courtroom pumped their fists and smiled broadly.

Shawntale Harrison, 25, of Robbinsdale stood to lose $125 per month because the state was planning to count a federal disability payment against her. She said she was looking at having to skip her rent or utility bills to make up the difference.

"It comes as a big relief," she said of the ruling. "Something won't have to go unpaid."

Harrison added, "There's a lot more families out there like mine."

"All of the plaintiffs have very tight budgets. None of the named plaintiffs have frills in their budgets," said Ralonda Mason, an attorney with St. Cloud Area Legal Services who argued the case.

During Monday's hearing, Assistant Attorney General Patricia Sonnenberg said she didn't believe the state needed a waiver from the federal government to make the changes the Legislature and Pawlenty approved in May.

More than 7,100 families would be affected by the change, Goodno said.

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