By John Michaelson, Minnesota News Connection
Advocates for kids in Minnesota are watching closely as the 2012 Legislature opened for business Tuesday.
Alex Fitzsimmons, legislative affairs and advocacy director for Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, says there are working parents in three-fourths of all families in poverty in Minnesota, so one way to offer more support for children would be to increase the wages of those earners.
“Raising the minimum wage; fully funding child care and expanding eligibility for child care; and then also creating a state version of the child tax credit. And we know that those three things together will have a significant impact on the economic security of families.”
Fitzsimmons says they’d like to see the minimum wage raised to $9.15 an hour. It’s currently $6.15 per hour for large employers in Minnesota, although that’s overridden by the federal minimum wage of $7.25.
Fitzsimmons says another of their legislative priorities is making sure the state is making the critical investment in early intervention services for children, especially those age three and under, as 90 percent of a child’s brain is developed in those early years.
“Experiences that are stressful such as homelessness, child abuse, child neglect or being separated from your family, can cause toxic stress in a child’s developing brain, meaning that that child’s brain isn’t able to develop the way that it needs to in order for a child to be successful later in life.”
Those children who are or have been homeless, says Fitzsimmons, are another focus of the Children’s Defense Fund in the upcoming session.
“The largest growing population of homeless in Minnesota are children and their families; on any given night in Minnesota about 4,500 children are homeless, and half of those children are under the age of five.”
There are now an estimated 192,000 children in poverty in Minnesota, up 62 percent over the last decade.
More information is at www.cdf-mn.org.