Missouri receives F in welfare reform report

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Temporary assistance bill goes before state House, Senate committees

Missouri received an F in the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card through The Heartland Institute, a national non-profit think tank that focuses on state legislation in all 50 states.

On Thursday, State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, State Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, State Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, and Logan Pike, government relations manager for the Chicago-based Heartland Institute and co-author of the report, released the findings.

"The main problem with Missouri is we have a very low working activity for people on the [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] program," Sater said. "Only about 14-16 percent of adults are actually participating in a work activity."

The federal government gives more than $200 million to the program per year, and Missouri ships another $120 million to $125 million per year, he said.

"Since the federal government is giving a lot more money, we might be in a position where they might penalize us by withholding funds if we don't have a work activity of at least 40-50 percent," Sater said.

The report said to improve its grade, Missouri needs to adopt work requirements, empower caseworkers with a cash diversion option, enforce eligibility rules, impose tougher time

limits on eligibility for aid and improve integration of services.

Missouri's workforce participation rate for welfare recipients (able-bodied working people) is 14 percent, which means 86 percent of people on welfare are not having to work in order to receive their benefits, Pike said.

"That's because through the sanction process, Missouri really isn't enforcing any kind of compliance," she said.

Work-related activity is not just about working, Pike said. It also involves searching for a job, vocational training, community service, attending a community college or working toward a GED, or HiSET in Missouri.

"In our report, we really stress the importance of work," she said. "We know that less than 30 percent of Americans that are engaged in a full-time job live in poverty. Even through part-time work, less than 15 percent of people engaged in part-time employment are in poverty.

"The overall goal of our report card is to give governors and policy makers a road map, so that they can use this in order to reform their welfare system and remove more people from dependency to be self-sufficient."

The report took about two years to complete, Pike said. Missouri was ranked 50th, and South Dakota was ranked first. The Heartland Institute also released a welfare report card in 2008, where Missouri was ranked 49th.

On Friday, Senate Bill 24, which Sater sponsored to modify the requirements to obtain public assistance in Missouri through the TANF or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, will go to conference committee before five senators and five representatives in the Capitol.

On March 18, the House passed an amended version of the bill. On Thursday, the Senate refused to concur with the amended bill.

"We will hash out the differences between the Senate Bill and the House Bill, and we will discuss whether or not we are going to go with the House position or we are going to go with the Senate position or we are going to compromise and maybe do something in between," Sater said.

Originally, Sater proposed changing the lifetime limit to receive TANF benefits from five years to two years, but he said he amended the bill to say four years because the Senate Republicans had to compromise with the Democrats. The House amended the bill to 30 months, or 2.5 years.

"My original bill did not have any face-to-face conferences between the Department of Social Services and the TANF recipients," Sater said. "We changed it in the Senate to where you have to have orientation before you get TANF benefits, and then one after about six weeks, and then another one if you were failing and you were going to be sanctioned. The House cut out one of those face-to-face conferences. They thought two was enough."

After the bill gets out of committee, it will be called a conference committee substitute, and then it will go back to the House and the Senate for one final vote, he said. If the House and the Senate pass the bill, then it will go to Gov. Jay Nixon.

"Then, we will see if he signs it or not," Sater said. "If he vetoes it, then we will still have more than 30 days to override the veto before the session ends. We won't have to wait until September.

"That was one reason we wanted to get this bill out. It was a priority for the Senate, and it was a priority for the House, too. They were very involved. This is the very first Senate Bill that the House has passed this year, and that shows the importance of this legislation."

If the bill becomes law, the changes to TANF and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, would become effective

Jan. 1, 2016.

"If we get more people back to work, which is our objective of course, then people will be going off of the TANF rolls, then we won't be having to spend money on those families," Sater said. "Our objective is to have nobody on the TANF rolls and everybody working. Of course, that's unrealistic.

"The Department of Social Services predicted there will be some savings of funds, and we could use those funds on other programs like alternatives to abortion and promoting fathers to be better parents."

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