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Gov. Nixon vetoes limits on family assistance program, sets up override attempt

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon speaking Monday at a news conference before the grand jury announcement on Monday, Nov 25, 2014
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo

From KCUR, Kansas City - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had harsh words for lawmakers who want to enact lifetime limits on the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Speaking at Operation Breakthrough in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday morning, Nixon called Senate Bill 24 "a misguided measure that punishes poor children in the legislature's zeal to reduce reliance on government assistance."

Lawmakers want to cap TANF benefits at 45 months. Currently, families are eligible for five years of benefits.

Nixon says he vetoed the bill because it didn't account for the more than 6,400 children who will lose their eligibility on Jan. 1, 2016, if  the restrictions become law.

"Now when it comes to adults, we can all agree on the need for personal responsibility. But these are kids. What can a 5-year-old do about that?"

Nixon says if lawmakers want to cut benefits for adults who don't meet work requirements, that's one thing. But he says it's possible to divert TANF funds to an appointed guardian rather than cut children from the program entirely. The state already does that if a parent has a drug problem.

Republican Diane Franklin of Camden County sponsored the bill in the House. She disagrees with Nixon’s statement that the bill would hurt kids:

“What we’re doing is putting the parents of those kids in a position where they can gain full-time employment, or develop their skills in a way that they achieve levels of success,” she said.

Sister Berta Sailer of Operation Breakthrough, a child care center for low-income families, thanked the governor for making the trip.

"We've been able to count on him to try and stop bad laws that are meant to hurt families," said Sailer of Nixon.

The Missouri House passed Senate Bill 24 111-36, and the Missouri Senate passed it 25-9. That's enough votes to override Nixon's veto in both chambers.

Marshall Griffin of St. Louis Public Radio contributed to this report.