Policymakers’ equity work makes strides, but much more to do

From Governor Mark Dayton’s State of the State address to the final bills put together at the very end of the 2016 Legislative Session, equity was a major theme at the Capitol this year. But even with the progress made, it’s clear that Minnesota should go further.

State policymakers are increasingly aware that Minnesota is a place where many people are not benefiting from the state’s economic performance. For one, despite overall prosperity, economic disparities remain between white Minnesotans and Minnesotans of color. But economic opportunity should be available to Minnesotans regardless of their race, gender, or where they live. Especially in the context of Minnesota’s tightening labor market and an imminent labor shortage, it’s crucial for the state’s economic future that all Minnesotans can reach their fullest potential in the economy.

The governor proposed allocating $100 million in total for equity proposals in his budget. The Senate followed suit, establishing a Subcommittee on Equity and including $91 million in FY 2017 in their budget to expand opportunity to more Minnesotans. Both of these proposals were for one-time funding. The House also advanced proposals intended to promote equity, but they were not part of a specific equity bill. The final budget agreement passed this session included $35 million in FY 2017 and $35 million for the next biennium in equity provisions that are intended to reduce the state’s economic disparities. FY 2017 funding includes:

  • $6.9 million in grants for the Latino, Somali, Southeast Asian and American Indian communities to address educational, employment and workforce disparities, and to support youth;
  • $1.5 million to promote high-wage, high-demand non-traditional jobs for women;
  • $1 million for a Minnesota Youth at Work Competitive Grant Program that will connect youth with employment opportunities, targeted toward youth of color and others who face barriers in the job market;
  • $1 million for Pathways to Prosperity, which helps prepare low-wage workers for high-demand jobs; and
  • $500,000 for the Emerging Entrepreneurs Fund, which helps fund loans to businesses owned by disadvantaged groups, including people of color, women and people living with disabilities.

However, even with this progress, a recent report from Voices for Racial Justice finds that Minnesota has a long way to go to reach racial equity. Even though policymakers passed an important equity package, they also missed many opportunities to address issues such as:

  • Criminal justice, to create a more just and equitable system that “treats people with compassion and dignity, and that allows for second chances.” For example, this could include restoring voting rights for individuals who were formerly incarcerated.
  • Economic equity, to ensure that all Minnesotans have the opportunity to succeed. This includes increasing cash assistance in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). MFIP supports some of Minnesota’s poorest families, but the cash grant hasn’t increased in 30 years. It also includes expanding the Working Family Credit, which supports lower-income families trying to make ends meet and makes the state’s tax system more fair.
  • Structural racism, to tackle policies, formal practices and other barriers that continue racial inequities. This could include instituting equity impact notes that assess proposed legislation on their ability to narrow or widen disparities.

Policymakers made some important strides this session to more directly address the state’s economic and racial disparities, but must come back in 2017 ready to continue this work.

-Clark Biegler

About Clark Biegler

Clark Biegler is the Minnesota Budget Project's policy analyst.
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