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Thoughts on the 2016 Legislative Agenda

Posted: March 23, 2016

As I have reflected on the legislative agenda for the 2016 session, a theme keeps emerging… family. How do we lift up family life? Support living wage jobs so people can provide a life for their families? How do we make sure that every child has a chance for a great education and learns the essential skills to pursue higher education? How can we make sure that all children have a home and enough to eat?

This seems like a daunting list. But, if you look at the questions, work and family go “hand in hand.” If every Minnesotan earned a living wage income there would be enough money to pay for rent, groceries, car repairs and essentials of family life. If we focused on affordable childcare, preschool and parenting classes, we could ensure that children receive the care they deserve with caregivers and parents that have the skills they need.

Safe housing is the building block of family life. It makes everything else possible. The numbers from a variety of reports on homelessness document the rise in homeless families. The Governor’s report highlights the good news that efforts made to house homeless veterans is paying off. And, yet there are hundreds of families and youth who do not have stable housing. There is a huge shortage of workforce or affordable housing.

Often the term, “Affordable Housing” is misleading… Many assume that the individuals are not working. The opposite is true. Many are working two and three low wage jobs and continue to come up short in a tight, expensive rental market like the Twin Cities. There are individuals who are elderly and disabled who rely on affordable housing, because they cannot work. But, many are working and are finding it impossible to afford essentials.

The term “work force” housing reflects more accurately that people are working and receiving a subsidy because there is a gap… One may ask the question, if employers do not pay a living wage, who pays the cost? And, who enjoys the benefit of the labor? The short answer is that all members of the community pay when wages are not adequate through the hidden costs of poverty.

The reality is that most people want to work, earn their own money and enjoy the dignity that comes from supporting their families. This is not a wish, or a dream, but is grounded in the inherent dignity that work should provide. This is where people of faith can make the difference… We can speak to the justice of fair wages, benefits and paid time off.

We may see this from many sides of the political aisle, but the one thing that unites us all is justice and fairness. We are called to stand in this truth and speak to our elected officials on behalf of those who earn minimum wages. This work is essential to the success of companies and needs to be valued.

We have created a whole infrastructure of charity, because we are lacking justice in wages. Until this situation changes, we will see huge growth in the need for affordable housing, food pantries, and emergency assistance of all types. Families are the heart of our communities and we need to find ways to lift them up.                                                           --Maura Schnorbach