From the Field: Minnesota Homeless Advocates Lobby for Voting Rights for Ex-Offenders, Cash Assistance and Affordable Housing for Low Income Families

On Tuesday, March 15, more than 600 advocates convened at the Minnesota State Capitol for “Homeless Day on the Hill” coordinated by the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless (MCH), an NLIHC state partner. Advocates from nearly 90% of Minnesota’s 67 Senate districts lobbied for new affordable housing bonds, the expansion of cash assistance for low income families, and the restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders. Homeless Day on the Hill this year coincided with lobbying efforts by the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, which seeks to restore voting rights to Minnesotans previously convicted of felonies who remain on probation or parole. 

According to Restore the Vote-Minnesota, approximately 47,000 citizens are currently denied the right to vote due to their ongoing sentence of parole or probation. About 25% of disenfranchised Minnesotans are people of color, compared to 5% of the general population. Criminal backgrounds too often block adults experiencing homelessness from housing, employment, and civic participation. In 2012, 47 percent of homeless adults in Minnesota had a criminal history, and 36 percent of homeless Minnesotans cited a criminal background as a top barrier to housing and employment. Individuals experiencing homelessness who are serving sentences of probation or parole are currently prohibited from voting in Minnesota. The denial of voting rights for previously convicted individuals diminishes the political voice of homeless persons to help make homelessness a priority issue among legislators.

MCH’s active participation in the Restore the Vote campaign demonstrates its strong belief that collaborations across issue areas are critically important to advance housing stability and economic opportunity. MHC believes that systemic and multi-issue change is essential to addressing the underlying causes of racial inequities and homelessness. Many MCH members participated in both the Homeless Day on the Hill and the Second Chance Coalition Day on the Hill.

Advocates are urging the passage of two bills that restore voting rights for ex-offenders: HF342, introduced by Representative Tony Cornish (R), and SF355, introduced by Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL). Both bills are gaining the support of direct service providers, faith communities, legal advocates, public safety entities, local governments, and civic groups.

Homeless Day on the Hill also advocated for expanding cash assistance for households enrolled in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), a workforce development program that provides employment support and basic cash assistance to low income families. MCH recently established the Prosperity for All Coalition, a campaign of more than 70 organizations throughout Minnesota dedicated to increasing MFIP cash assistance payments by $100 per month. MFIP cash assistance has not been increased in 30 years. MCH reports that the average monthly cash assistance payment is currently $348 per family, with fewer than half of all enrolled families qualifying for a $110 monthly housing allowance. Prosperity for All’s policy proposal was included in Governor Mark Dayton’s budget and follows recommendations made by the Minnesota TANF Expenditure Task Force. For more information about Prosperity for All, see Memo, 3/16/2015.

MCH is also playing a leadership role in the Homes for All Campaign that is advocating to secure $130 million in new affordable housing infrastructure bonds. NLIHC’s other state partner in Minnesota, the Minnesota Housing Partnership, is also leading the Homes for All Campaign. The campaign estimates that this level of bond funding would develop or preserve approximately 4,100 homes for Minnesotans. In addition to seeking expanded revenue, the Homes for All proposes adding senior-only housing as an eligible use of housing infrastructure bonds. According to Homes for All, 149,000 senior households in Minnesota qualify for affordable housing programs but only 23,400 senior-only affordable homes are available. These efforts to secure housing bond revenue follow on recent significant victories by the Homes for All Campaign in the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions (see Memo, 5/30/2014 and 7/13/2015).

“Minnesotans want to see action taken to end homelessness,” said Senta Leff, Executive Director for MCH. “Homeless Day on the Hill provides important momentum as we continue our legislative efforts to expand investments in affordable housing, increase economic stability, and restore voting rights.”

For more information about Homeless Day on the Hill or the legislative priorities of MCH, contact Kenza Hadj-Moussa at kenza@mnhomelesscoalition.org.

Learn more about Homes for All at: www.homesforallmn.org