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Legislative notebook:Senior scams attacked

ST. PAUL -- Scammers who convince older Minnesotans to send money to people they think they are helping are targeted by a new bill.

"These scams continue to be a growing problem and we need to do all that we can to combat them," said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights. "This legislation is a great step forward and while it's simple, it will make a huge difference in preventing these types of scams."

Atkins and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, wrote the bill to protect senior citizens from what is known as wire fraud.

They said millions of dollars are lost each year, but only 5 percent of the frauds are reported.

Their bill would require wire transfer companies to confirm that the location provided by the sender is the location where the money ends up. Often, the older person thinks the money will go to help a grandchild or friend, but it ends up in the hands of a criminal.

Also, the penalty for such fraud would increase.

"Taking advantage of our seniors' love of their grandchildren is something we cannot tolerate," Bonoff said. "This bill is one tool of protection."

Peggy Hiestand-Harri said her mother was scammed out of $42,000 through various wire transfers made to a Jamaican fraud ring. Her mother is in bankruptcy and is now on heating and other assistance.

Wildlife in Twin Cities

Two southern Twin Cities representatives want $6.4 million for 15 wildlife and habitat projects in the metropolitan area.

Democratic Reps. Mike Freiberg of Golden Valley and Anna Wills of Apple Valley introduced a bill with 33 other representatives to fund projects in all seven Twin Cities counties, projects such as converting existing Dakota County land to prairie and oak savanna and prevent soil erosion injurious to water quality for the brook trout population.

"These 15 projects will help protect, restore and enhance publically owned land in the metropolitan area for habitat," Freiberg said.

Wills added: "It is only right that the needs and resources of the metro area are addressed. We are not seeking to take funds away from other projects."

Is $101 enough?

A group of Democrat lawmakers challenged their legislative colleagues to live on $101 a week, the amount the Minnesota Family Investment Program provides for a family of two.

The state program is designed to temporarily help low-income families with economic stability.

Lawmakers said the amount those in the program receive has not increased in more than 27 years.

"The low MFIP rates are shameful, and as a result more than 70,000 Minnesota children in the program are living in extreme poverty," Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said. "No matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible for a family of two to live on $101 a week."

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, authored a bill that would double the cash portion of the program's monthly grant.

"We know MFIP works by providing basic temporary assistance to adults with children while they look for work or participate in job training, but it doesn't work well if these families are hungry, homeless and can't afford basic needs because they are living far below poverty levels," she said.