Senate seeks changes with temporary assistance, food stamps

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sater: Too many people live off government

A State Senate bill filed by State Sen. David Sater aims to modify the requirements to obtain public assistance in Missouri through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"Once you get a job, you are still getting these cash benefits and the food stamps for as long as you are on the program, and hopefully their job will start paying a lot more to where they wouldn't need those benefits anymore," Sater said. "We've got people who are just living off the government too much."

Senate Bill 24 plans to change provision requirements for people who are in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, the following changes may occur for the TANF program: The lifetime limit for TANF decreases from five years to two years. The Department of Social Services implements a cash diversion program that grants eligible TANF benefits recipients with cash grants for short-term needs rather than signing up for the long-term monthly cash assistance program; and the maximum limit is set at three times the family size allowance, for use once in a 12-month period and for only five instances in a lifetime. People found guilty of a dangerous felony are banned from receiving benefits. Citizens who seek benefits must be engaged in work activities before becoming eligible.

Sater said he might negotiate the total lifetime limit reduction.

Social Services could sanction any family and not send TANF benefits for at least a month if the family does not abide by the work requirements, according to the bill. The family can reapply for benefits by completing 30 days of work activities within 40 days of the eligibility interview.

"The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allows states with a certain level of unemployment to seek a waiver of the work requirement for assistance," according to the bill. "Missouri currently has such a waiver. This act removes the waiver and reinstates the work requirements. Any savings resulting from the changes to TANF and SNAP under this act shall be used to provide child care assistance for single parents, education assistance and job training for individuals receiving benefits under the programs."

It seems like a good idea to encourage TANF recipients to comply with work activity requirements aligned with benefit eligibility, said Janet Mills, director of the Cassville Community Food Pantry.

"You would desire for these programs defined as temporary emergency assistance to offer some reasonable time limits upon the eligibility period, so a lifetime limit of 24 months for TANF seems like a good idea," Mills said. "The additional proposal of the option to format TANF benefits into lump-sum cash grants for short-term needs, as opposed to long-term monthly benefits, also seems like a sensible method of targeting a problem to solve within a client's circumstances, providing needed aid, and allowing the funds to be spread out over a larger number of families seeking assistance."

Social Services and the University of Missouri Extension handle the work programs for people receiving SNAP, Mills said. The work requirement programs for educational assistance and job training are provided on a voluntary basis.

"My recommendation would be to keep the current system in place as it stands since it seems to be working well, and there seems to be an adequate source of funding it in ways that are not draining opportunities to divide and extend services to all seeking help," she said.

The Department of Social Services does not typically comment on pending legislation, said Rebecca Woelfel, the department's communications director.

In November, Social Services helped 42 child-only families, 96 one-parent families, and 27 two-parent families for the TANF program in Barry County with a total of $39,220 -- which decreased by one family, or $240, over October. In November, the statewide totals were 29,581 families or $6,778,221 -- which decreased by 250 families, or $40,604, over October. In 2013, Barry County averaged $244 per family, or $89 per person each month, compared with statewide averages of $231 per family or $90 per person.

In November, Social Services helped 2,749 households and 6,625 people for food stamps in Barry County with a total of $767,928 -- which increased by 16 households, 48 people, or $7,819, over October. In November, the statewide totals were 396,898 households, 842,984 people or $106,392,919 -- which increased by 4,305 households, 9,360 people, or $1,196,199, over October. In 2013, Barry County averaged $288 per household, or $122 per person, each month compared with statewide averages of $273 per household, or $128 per person.

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