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Bill passed by Missouri House would cut lifetime welfare eligibility in half

Flickr | Paul Sableman

The length of time a Missourian could receive welfare benefits would be cut in half, if legislation passed by the Missouri House becomes law.

Families that qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, could get help for two and a half years instead of the current five years. The original version of Senate Bill 24 would have reduced the lifetime eligibility period to four years.

State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, argued that reducing the time limit would motivate TANF recipients to look for work.

"I've always had the philosophy that I would much rather give one of my constituents a job than give them a check, and I believe this moves in that direction," Wood said.

Democrats, including Jon Carpenter of Gladstone, argued that cutting the eligibility period in half would result in thousands of people suddenly losing benefits.

"It's really important that when we pass bills here, we understand what the actual impact on real Missourians is going to be," Carpenter said.  "On day one, Jan. 1 of 2016, 12,000 children, and 18,000 people total, will be dropped (from TANF), and that's only on day one … as people continue to go over the 30-month cap, that number will continue to grow."

Republicans disputed those figures, saying the number of people who'd be dropped would not be that high due to exemptions written into the bill.

"I've heard so many misquotes and mis-facts," said Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge.  "'Twelve-thousand kids are going to lose their TANF benefits.' No, they're not ... . Those that are exempted are minor children, (kids with) hardship exemptions, exemptions due to battery."

The bill would also require TANF recipients to be employed or actively seeking employment to be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Also, 2 percent of the federal money used to fund Missouri's TANF program would be diverted to alternative to abortion programs; and another 2 percent would be diverted to programs that promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood.

The proposal now goes back to the Senate.  Members of that chamber can either accept the 30-month language and other changes made by the House, or reject them and ask that a conference committee be appointed to work out the differences.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.