JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican members of the General Assembly gathered today to hold a press conference on SB 24, a bill reforms the welfare programs Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill is known as the Strengthening Missouri Families Act by Senate leaders.
Speaker John Diehl (R-Town and Country), Rep. Marsha Haefner (R-St. Louis), Rep. Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton), Rep. Sue Allen (R-Town and Country), and Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) were joined by Logan Pike, state government relations manager for the Heartland Institute. The Heartland Institute describes themselves as a “national nonprofit research organization dedicated to finding and promoting ideas that empower people.”
Missouri has consistently scored the lowest grades on welfare reform report cards issued by the Heartland Institute since the welfare reform bill was signed in 1996. Sater called the status quo a “definite problem in the state of Missouri.” This year, Missouri ranks at the bottom again, scoring an “F” on the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card: A State-by-State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies.
Empower Missouri, led by Jeanette Mott Oxford, finds the Heartland Institute to be flawed and held a press conference afterwards, calling the report “distorted.” Oxford and her allies maintain that the “reforms” touted in SB24 are merely deep cuts to Missouri’s neediest families.
Sater said it was not just the Heartland Institute report that inspired his sponsorship of the reform, but that he’d been working on the issue for almost five years.
SB 24, among other reforms, changes the TANF lifetime limit on benefits from 60 months to 30 months and requires work activity to be eligible for benefits. Pike and the bill’s supporters say that the reforms Missouri is making have been made in other states while not going as far as others.
From the bill summary:
“This act requires the Department of Social Services to conduct an investigation and determine if a person is cooperating with a work activity requirement under the TANF program. If the person is non-compliant, a representative of the Department shall conduct a face-to-face meeting and explain the potential sanction of TANF benefits, as well as the requirements to cure such a sanction. The TANF recipient shall then have six weeks to comply with the work activity requirement. Failure to do so will result in a sanction consisting of a 50% reduction of benefits for a maximum of ten weeks. To cure a sanction, the person shall perform work activities for a minimum average of 30 hours per week for one month. If the person does not cure the sanction, the case shall be closed. This act allows for the person to reapply for benefits by completing work activities for a minimum average of 30 hours per week within one month of the eligibility interview.”
The bill also removes a waiver on SNAP and reinstates work requirements in order for Missourians to receive the food stamps.
Richard said to be able to give TANF dollars to Missouri families, the state receives a federal block earmarked for assistance to the poor.
“Missouri has failed to implement many of the reform policies adopted by other states. As a result, we rank dead last in the country in welfare reform policies. We need to restructure our system, reinvest the savings back into the system and get people back into the work force,” said Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard.
Looking ahead to the second half of session, the Senate will continue to address the current shortfalls of the state’s education system so that every child in Missouri has access to a quality education.
“It is important to remember that the only kids in Missouri who currently have no choice as to the school they attend are those from families too poor to change their zip code or too poor to pay for an educational alternative. We need to find a way to reduce the number of students transferring out of their home districts so they can get a good, quality education close to home. We are also looking at ways to support additional local options for students in failing districts,” said Senate Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Louis County.
Opponents of the cuts note roughly two-thirds of all TANF recipients are children, and say that a reduction in benefits for a failure to comply with work requirements will punish children for parental mistakes.
Diehl stated that Missouri has adequate personnel to implement the reforms.
Over 60,000 Missourians received TANF benefits in 2013.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.