Thursday, November 16, 2006


Criminalizing Poverty

I received the renewal application for MinnesotaCare yesterday. The program works pretty well, except for a couple of things. One is the tone of the application. There are constant reminders that if you screw up the application and don't report every single cent and asset, you will be charged with fraud. (A $250,000 fine!) If you don't send in each and every proof for those assets, plus proof of citizenship, you will be dropped from the program. It says so under each item you have to report.

The second issue is the time requirement for notifying MinnesotaCare of changes. The application arrived yesterday and is due December 1. What's that, a couple weeks? To pull together birth certificates, bank statements, insurance statements, pay stubs, proof of insurance from employers, plus other miscellaneous proofs. If there is any kind of change within the year you are receiving MinnesotaCare, you are required to report that change within 10 days. TEN DAYS. Plus, you better remember what things MinnesotaCare requires you to report on within 10 days. (They don't give you any reminders with the monthly bill.) Don't know if that's 10 calendar days or 10 business days, but it seems to be 10 calendar days, in which case you can kiss a couple of weekend days goodbye, and any holidays that happen to fall within the time period. There is no way you're going to get ahold of a worker on weekends and holidays. Many people on MinnesotaCare fall into the category of working poor. If you work when the MinnesotaCare office is open, you'll have a devil of a time finding time within your day to call as well. The upshot is that you can easily play phone tag with a worker and not ever speak to someone within those 10 days.

What the tone and the unrealistic deadlines do is set up the feeling that the poor are criminals trying to take advantage of the system. In fact, it's almost as though the unrealistic deadline is an attempt to prove that the poor are criminals by setting them up to fail.

When the state comes up with these forms & rules, do they ever talk to poor people to find out what works for them? Or is that too much to ask? (I know, I know. We poor people are asking for a handout, so we should just shut up and take what we get.)

I'm not sure I have any suggestion to alleviate the tone of the forms, but I do have a simple solution for the deadline. Instead of making it 10 days, how about making it a billing cycle of 30 days? Would you expect business people to pay a bill in less tha 30 days? Why do we demand more of the poor? To remind people of the changes they need to report, MinnesotaCare can print a simple statement on their monthly bills listing the types of things people need to report. (Everything but this is now printed on the bills.)

I feel a letter to my legislators coming on.

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