This piece is part of the Minnesota installment of the “Advocating on the Road” blog series.

By Inyene Ekah,
Senior director for employment services,  Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

I love helping people and was drawn to employment services, because in addition to helping, employment services also empower people to provide for themselves.  At Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, our goal is to move people from public assistance to self-sufficiency.   I have spent the last five years working with this population and have seen the impact of various public policies both at the state and federal level on these individuals and their families.  Through advocacy, we can help shape these policies that meet immediate needs, help people reach self-sufficiency, and shatter cycles of poverty.  

When provisions of the Minnesota Family Investment Program and related programs were recently highlighted for changes at the state legislature, our office saw first-hand how women, men, and children would suffer if assistance were restricted or impeded. 

Some lawmakers called for routine drug screenings for participants to be eligible for Minnesota Family Investment Program assistance.  While many of the people who come to Lutheran Social Services do not have a drug history, there are those who do have this  history some more recent than others and with varying severity. 

One woman comes to mind — she was a middle-class individual living the American Dream, until her personal issues interfered with her professional life.  This woman was working in a hospital as a registered nurse and had some problems with prescription drugs.  This resulted in losing her job and her house, and soon she was applying for Minnesota Family Investment Program assistance.  She was a single mother of three children. Because of the assistance through the Minnesota Family Investment Program, she was able to move to an apartment with her family and use the cash benefit to pay for rent and the food portion to feed her family.

If this mother had been denied this assistance, as a result of a positive drug test, the impact on her family would have been even more devastating. She was able to keep a roof over her head and feed her family in spite of the personal challenges she was experiencing because the program works.  Her life will be restored because of the temporary assistance given to her and she is on her way to working again and leaving assistance. 

Public programs, like the Minnesota Family Investment Program, should serve as a safety net for people in need, no matter how the need came about.  The need exists, therefore assistance must exist.  My experiences have led me to believe that these types of programs should be available for all who need it.