Inside the Capitol: Efforts underway to shelter the homeless, keep kids safe at school, and decriminalize poverty 

Aiding Shelter Providers

Our Catholic faith calls us to shelter the homeless. Despite many charities living out this corporal work of mercy, the need continues to grow. Our partners at Catholic Charities Twin Cities tell us the number of people living without shelter in the Twin Cities has increased 50 percent between 2019 and 2020. Homelessness is also on the rise in greater Minnesota with a 32 percent increase over the same period of time.

Charity alone is not enough to meet this need. Thus, the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC) recently testified in support of HF42 (Howard), which would increase state funding for emergency shelter operations by $15 million. The funding to the Emergency Services Program (ESP) is currently the state’s only investment that provides supplemental resources to Minnesota’s shelter providers. Increased and stable state funding for ESP will help shelter providers like Catholic Charities continue to respond to our state’s homelessness crisis.

Funding School Safety

A bill that would increase funding to help keep students safe at school continues to move forward. The Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee has agreed to include SF627 (Chamberlain) in the committee’s final omnibus bill. If the omnibus bill passes, the amount of money dedicated to safe schools aid would increase to $37 per student for fiscal year 2022 and beyond. Safe schools revenue must be used to pay for safety related resources and efforts such as a drug abuse prevention program, voluntary opt-in suicide prevention tools, and facility security enhancements.

A specific provision to grant non-public schools the same level of safe schools funding as public and charter schools is included in SF627. Often, non-public students are excluded from these types of special funding mechanisms and grants. Inclusion of non-public schools in the bill was not without dissent. MCC, as a member of Nonpublic Education Partners, is working to ensure private school students receive an equitable share of these important resources for school and student safety.

Decriminalizing Poverty

Replacing criminal penalties for unpaid parking tickets and minor traffic violations with civil collections is a bipartisan proposal supported by MCC. The bill, HF336 (Becker-Finn) / SF432 (Ingebrigsten), would forbid suspension of a driver’s license based solely on their failure to pay a traffic ticket, parking fine, or surcharge. Offenders would still be required to pay fines through a civil collections process.

Allowing for a civil judgement instead of a license suspension aims to protect those living in or near poverty from unequal and unjust collateral punishments, such as losing the ability to drive to and from work. Catholic Conferences around the country have routinely supported similar legislative efforts to decriminalize poverty.

Action Alert

Join your voice with others advocating to uphold the dignity of those without proper shelter. Register today to participate in the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Day on the Hill. This year’s virtual advocacy days are March 9-11. Find details and registration at www.MNHomelessCoalition.org.