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Vulnerable feel the pinch of Minn. gov't shutdown

By Martiga Lohn

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 1 2011 1:57 p.m. MDT

Minnesota food pantries were scurrying to make sure they would still get 700,000 pounds of food — about 30 percent of their total volume — in the next two months through a federal program. Nearly a million pounds already in warehouses can't be delivered during the shutdown. Colleen Moriarty, executive director of Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said the federal program's operation depends on a single state employee working in a data management system. She will ask a court-appointed referee next Tuesday to deem the worker essential.

Byron Laher, director of a program that runs food shelves in three northern Twin Cities suburbs, said the federal donations help those pantries feed 1,300 families each month.

"We're not in position to go out and buy food to replace that," Laher said.

The shutdown also idled a state hotline set up to help seniors and their caregivers find services, housing options, help with Medicaid and Medicare insurance and more. A call to the 800 number Friday got a recording saying callers could leave a message.

The political stalemate also meant instant layoffs for 22,000 state workers, including Paul Bissen, a road and bridge inspector for more than 26 years. Bissen said he cut back on spending last month, and began taking lunch to work, using his credit cards less and storing money away. He figured he could go a couple of months without worrying, but on the first day of the shutdown, he said it looked like his washing machine had died — adding another expense.

"I want to work. I've got road construction projects to build, to try to make them safe and make them smooth so people can get back to forth to their work," Bissen said.

As frustration among Minnesota residents grew, there was no word Friday of any plans to continue budget negotiations. Instead, the heads of the state's Republican and Democratic parties blasted each other for Minnesota's second shutdown in six years.

GOP Chairman Tony Sutton called Dayton a "piece of work" and accused him of inflicting "maximum pain" for political reasons.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin laid the blame on Republicans, saying they drove the state to a shutdown to protect millionaires from tax increases sought by Dayton.

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a left-leaning group supportive of Dayton, plans to run weekend radio ads in three popular vacation areas blaming Republicans for the impact of the shutdown, including closed state parks. The group also debuted a "shutdown shame" website.

The shutdown has been a slow-motion disaster, with a new Democratic governor and new Republican legislative majorities at odds for months over how to eliminate the state budget deficit. Dayton has been determined to raise taxes on high-earners to close the deficit, while Republicans insisted that it be closed only by cuts to state spending.

Even after the shutdown looked like a certainty, Dayton and Republicans did not soften their conflicting principles. Dayton said he campaigned and was elected on a promise not to make spending cuts to a level he called "draconian." He said he has been more flexible than Republicans in trying to compromise in order to acknowledge their principles.

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