Migrant funding may be reviewed

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 5, 1999

After rejecting state funds for a temporary project serving migrant workers, Freeborn County commissioners will be asked to reconsider.

Monday, April 5, 1999

After rejecting state funds for a temporary project serving migrant workers, Freeborn County commissioners will be asked to reconsider.

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Community Action Agency Director Collette Turcotte has prepared a report on seasonal and migrant workers in the area. She’s hoping it will answer some of the commissioners’ questions.

The issue is on the commissioner’s agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

&uot;I understand the commissioners were expecting more information/statistics for the commissioner’ meeting regarding the population,&uot; she said in a letter to the board. &uot;I apologize for not being able to answer your questions and have researched other sources than the grant criteria for additional information.&uot;

At the March 16 commissioner’s meeting, Commissioner Dan Belshan asked Turcotte how she arrived at a $26,600 cost for a three-month period of providing services to migrant workers.

At the time, Turcotte said figure was a &uot;major guesstimate&uot; since the state was asking community action agencies around Minnesota to temporarily take over the duties. The agency that had done the work, Midwest Farmworkers, Inc., was having problems with its contract.

Turcotte said she couldn’t provide the information Belshan wanted because the county has never tracked the number of migrant workers in the area and she hasn’t seen the Midwest Farmworkers, Inc. records.

&uot;I’ve never been privy to their paperwork,&uot; she said.

Since then, Turcotte said she’s done some digging.

According to her report, the Minnesota Department of Migrant Health estimates there are between 100 and 499 migrant workers in Freeborn County during the season of April through October.

In the past six months, 202 registered migrant workers have been documented by Bob Garza, Workforce Center migrant labor representative.

Turcotte said her staff estimates 400 migrant and seasonal farm workers will request assistance in between April and June.

With those statistics, Turcotte said she is asking commissioners to reconsider their rejection of state funding.

If the $26,600 is accepted, the funds will be used in various ways to address housing, transportation and shelter needs, she said.

Turcotte said direct financial assistance will be limited to $500 per family, based on need, income and circumstances. She said most of the funding will pay for other services, such as housing searches, information and referral services, job training and other help.

Area food shelves will also benefit from the state aid with $2,000 going to the Salvation Army Food Pantry and $1,000 to the Presbyterian Ecumenical Food Pantry.

Still, another commissioner questioned the benefit of providing assistance to one specific group.

On March 16, Commissioner Keith Porter said he was concerned people might be coming to the state simply to receive the benefits. He also questioned how many migrant workers were Hispanic and non-residents.

In her report, Turcotte notes 88 percent if migrant farm workers are from Texas and 98 percent of them are Hispanic, with the majority between the ages of 22 and 44. Nearly half the workers have limited English language skills and 75 percent are school drop-outs.

She stresses that 100 percent fall below the poverty level.

As it stands, the county has rejected the funding from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning. In order for that decision to be reversed, one of the three commissioners voting to reject the money must ask to have it reconsidered.

But, County Administrator Gene Smith noted that doesn’t mean the county will be able to request the money right away.

While a commissioner can request to have the issue reconsidered Tuesday, a second vote won’t be held until April 20.

Smith said county policy states an issue must be placed on the next meeting agenda for reconsideration, giving commissioners time to reevaluate the question.

For now, the funds will remain with the state.

If the commissioners again chose to reject the funds, the state could chose to divide the money among other counties serving migrant workers.

Turcotte said CAA staff will serve the migrant population either way, but the lack of funding could result in overtime hours and a strain on the current budget.

In other county business, the commissioners will:

o Be asked to set April 20 as the day to hear a recommendation for improvements to a section of County Ditch 75.

o Receive a report from the state on the license center’s accuracy and overall performance.

o Consider amending the court services department’s budget to approve using $4,000 for computer equipment.

o Discuss several highway projects.

o Discuss the construction of a pole-type building at the Freeborn County fairgrounds. The project bids range from $89,864 to $110,975.

o Consider approval of an application for nearly $35,000 in state funds for acquisition, development and maintenance of trails.

o Review a request from the Freeborn County sheriff for participation in the &uot;Livescan&uot; fingerprint processing project. The project would provide technical equipment and assistance for new fingerprinting technology.

o Consider payment on a drain repair at the Freeborn County Historical Society museum.