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Home > Research Articles > On 'Self Sufficient People' plank, results are mixed, MN

Star Tribune

Monday, November 25, 2002

Jesse Ventura came into office criticizing single mothers, calling MinnesotaCare "socialized medicine" and railing against Minnesotans' dependency on government.

The second plank of his Big Plan was called "Self Sufficient People."

It was supposed to cut government dependency by everyone from welfare recipients to aging seniors and bad parents. The goals were lofty: health insurance for more uninsured Minnesotans, help for welfare recipients and disabled Minnesotans to find decent-paying jobs, more services for senior citizens who wanted to continue living at home.

The administration rates itself somewhere between 7 and 9 out of 10 on these measures. While some of its goals were elusive, such as "Helping parents PARENT," there was progress on several fronts.

• Welfare: Since 1998, the number of families on welfare dropped from 50,800 to 43,300, according to the state Department of Human Services. And long-term welfare recipients were singled out for special help getting off the system.

But the percentage of recipients who went back on welfare within a year remained relatively constant, at about 24 percent.

• Independent living for seniors: The percentage of senior citizens on Medicare living in institutions dropped from 61 percent in 1998 to 46 percent in 2001, according to administration figures.

The portion of the state's medical assistance/long-term care fund going to institutional care for the elderly dropped from 67 percent in 1998 to 58 percent in 2001.

• Tobacco endowment: A youth tobacco-prevention program funded by the new endowment can be credited with sharp drops in cigarette smoking by young Minnesotans, said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. During the first 2 1/2 years of the Ventura administration, cigarette smoking by junior high students dropped 20 percent and smoking by high school students dropped 11 percent, she said.

How much credit can Ventura take? A strong state economy and job market, a hefty state budget and highly experienced commissioners for health and human services played a big role in helping Minnesotans find jobs or and become self-sufficient, said human service leaders.

Still, said former Human Services Commissioner Michael O'Keefe: "You can argue whether this was because of the economy, me or Jesse Ventura, but there were some solid outcomes."

In other areas, however, progress was elusive. The percentage of disabled people with jobs remained flat at about 12 percent. The number of people without health insurance barely budged -- from about 6 percent to 5.4 percent, according to the state health department.

The goal of "making parents parent" was put on the back burner, said O'Keefe. And the goal of providing more training opportunities for workers never materialized; state job training dollars still are earmarked only for certain workers.

Debbie Atterberry, director of the Employment Action Center, which oversees job training programs in the metro area, said Ventura leaves office with an economy that could undermine the progress his administration made.