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Missouri lawmakers send Nixon bill that cuts welfare lifetime eligibility

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Legislation that would reduce lifetime eligibility for most welfare recipients in Missouri is on its way to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.

An earlier version of the bill would have cut lifetime eligibility for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, in half, from 5 years to two and 1/2.  But a compromise between the House and Senate reduces that period to 3 years and 9 months.

Senate Bill 24 would also require TANF recipients to be employed or seeking employment, or else face the loss of half of their benefits for a maximum of 10 weeks.  After that, they could forfeit all benefits.  TANF recipients would also have to be employed to be eligible for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps

Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Gladstone, argued that thousands of needy Missourians, including children, would suddenly lose benefits on Jan. 1, 2016.

"I believe the number comes out to 9,465 people, and 6,310 of whom are children, (and) that's just day one," Carpenter said.  "People will continue, as the months pass, hitting that limit, and that number will go up and up and up, and it will be many more thousands of people who will be kicked off of TANF, who, if we don't pass this bill, wouldn't be."

Republicans argued that the "T" in TANF stands for "temporary," and that it was designed to wean low-income Missourians off of government assistance. 

"The program has grown to the point where nobody really gets off it because the verifications aren't done, because we don't go back and look, and because there's no effective way to get people from welfare to work," said House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country.

Senate Bill 24 passed the Missouri House on Thursday 111-36 along a mostly party-line vote.  It passed the Senate on Tuesday 25-9, with every Republicans voting "yes" and every Democrats voting "no."  Before the Senate vote, Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said that he could have supported the bill if the 9,465 due to lose benefits on Jan. 1 had been "grandfathered in."

The bill was also passed early enough for House and Senate Republicans to override a potential veto from Nixon before the end of the 2015 legislative session.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

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