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Democratic legislators furious after Minnesota millionaire gets food stamps to prove a point

Millionaire Rob Undersander tells a Minnesota House committee Wednesday, April 11, 2018, that he accepted food stamps for 19 months as a test to see if someone who does not need the aid can receive it. With him is Rep. Jeff Howe of Rockville, who has a bill to figure assets into determining whether food stamps should be issues. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Minnesota state Rep. Jennifer Schultz of Duluth tells fellow human services committee members Wednesday, April 11, 2018, that it was inappropriate for a millionaire to accept food stamps as a test. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Chairman Matt Dean of the Minnesota House health and human services finance committee and aide Shiloh Larson listen to testimony Wednesday, April 11, 2018, about whether assets should be included in determining whether a person is eligible for food stamps. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL—Millionaire Rob Undersander sat at a Minnesota House witness stand saying he received food stamps for 19 months to prove a point: Not everyone who gets the aid needs it.

Democratic legislators did not like his Wednesday, April 11, testimony, particularly Rep. John Considine, D-Mankato.

"You knew this was wrong and you did it anyway," Considine said while staring at Undersander. "I find it pretty despicable. .... I am just sorry there is no way we can prosecute you."

Gasps filled the nearly packed room, especially from the Republican side of the committee table.

Undersander said that he got the food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, legally because he and his wife had little income for the 19 months they took food stamps. He plenty of assets, which he said qualifies him to be a millionaire, but assets such as property and bank accounts are not used to determine whether someone qualifies for food stamps. Only income is.

Undersander was on the witness stand to support legislation by Rep. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, that would include assets when approving food stamps. The Howe bill has further steps before reaching a full House vote.

The Waite Park millionaire, the focus of most of the Wednesday discussion, said while he received about $300 a month in food stamps some people in his area who really need the help got just $14.

Rep. Laurie Halverson, D-Eagan, joined others in her party to criticize Undersander.

"I am finding it incredibly offensive that $6,000 in benefits were taken," Halvorson said.

Added Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth: "I think it is inappropriate to apply for these benefits."

In a Forum News Service interview, Undersander said that he signed up for food stamps to "audit" the program. He and his wife accepted food stamps from the middle of 2016 to early this year. He said receiving the food stamps would do more to prove that some people get food stamps when they do not need them than if he just said it without the experience.

He said that he donated the equivalent of the food stamps to charities, his church and the needy.

Undersander said he accomplished his goal.

"I have obviously gotten your attention," he told lawmakers.

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, praised the Waite Park man.

"I am really sorry about the line of questioning that has been put forth, and the accusations..." she said. "You should be able to come to a committee without being accused of being a thief."

The food stamp program uses federal money, but is state and county administered. Howe's bill would require assets to be included in deciding who is eligible for food stamps. However, he said, he wants to talk to other lawmakers to decide on an asset limit.

Howe said he does not want to cut off aid to anyone who needs it.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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