By Ashley Jost
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The House Children, Family and Persons with Disabilities Committee heard two bills last week that seek to update Missouri’s mandates for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in order to comply with federal regulations.
House bills 156 and 279 both specify that TANF benefits would not be able to be used at gambling, liquor or adult entertainment establishments, dictating that if a recipient does use TANF funds for such purposes, they would be ineligible for further benefits for three years.
“These are requirements to maintain the TANF grant for the state, per the Middle Class [Tax Relief and Job Creation] Act from 2012,” said Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles, who sponsored HB156. “If we don’t do this by 2014, we’re subject to penalty.”
Sommer said the penalty would be a 5 percent reduction of state TANF grants funds, which are currently around $217 million. The reduction would be about $10.8 million.
TANF is a temporary assistance fund, Sommer said, which provides some money to parents who are going through a rough time, whether that be job-searching or other circumstances and need financial assistance for their families. Sommer said that there are currently about 100,000 TANF recipients throughout the state.
Sommer sponsored the same bill last year, which she said made it out of committee and through the Rules Committee, but did not make it to the floor in time. She said as the technical deadline for the state to take this action before losing a portion of the grant is late February 2014, she hopes the current bills can be combined and passed quickly.
“I was surprised it stopped last year, but that’s the way it works,” Sommer said. “If worse comes to worse [and we can’t get it through this year], we can try to pass it with an emergency clause next year.”
Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Lee’s Summit, who chairs the committee, said he might move one of the bills or a combined version into an omnibus bill because the committee only has three slots for bills this session.
“I think this is a great thing,” he added. “It increases accountability and incentive for people to transition to work.”
Grisamore said the committee will discuss what the next step will be on this bill and the others that are lined-up for the omnibus slots as soon as they return from legislative spring break.
To contact Ashley Jost, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @ajost.
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.