Welfare Reform Takes Center Stage

This week the Missouri House approved an overhaul of Missouri’s welfare program-the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program-and sent SB 24 back to the Missouri Senate. Because the House and Senate passed different versions, a conference committee will seek to resolve the differences between the two chambers.

The MCC submitted a floor letter to House members prior to debate on SB 24. The letter pointed out the many positive aspects of the legislation, but urged members to allow at least 48 months of TANF benefits in a person’s lifetime. This was the lifetime limit set by the Senate. The House approved many of the MCC recommendations but reduced the lifetime benefit limit to 30 months.

Next week, the Missouri General Assembly will be on spring break but when they return on Monday, March 30 legislators will consider final revisions to SB 24. You can send a pre-composed message to your state legislators by using this MCC Action Alert. We also encourage you to visit with your legislators over spring break.

The House’s 30-month TANF limit is too short. It fails to recognize the barriers to employment faced by recipients, including lack of transportation and education, few job skills, drug and alcohol addictions, domestic violence issues, and a past of intergenerational poverty. These barriers can be overcome, but it takes time. Recipients need the opportunity to fully participate in the TANF work activities, such as education, job training, and community services, as well as actual employment. The 48-month limit set the by Senate is reasonable; the House’s 30-month limit is not.

By adopting the Senate’s 48-month limit the General Assembly will be in a position to pass welfare reform that truly improves TANF. Here are some of the positive provisions of SB 24 the MCC is supporting:

  • Recipients have face-to-face meetings with caseworkers to plan a roadmap out of poverty (currently, most recipients never see a caseworker);
  • The marriage penalty in TANF is removed. If a recipient marries, the income of the spouse will be disregarded in calculating benefits for six months (this will promote marriage and two-parent families);
  • TANF dollars are allocated to address two purposes of the federal law: 1) prevent and reduce out-of-wedlock birth; and 2) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. This will be done by allocating:
    • $4.3 million for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood programs; and,
    •  $4.3 million for alternative to abortion services.
The General Assembly can pass welfare reform that truly improves TANF and helps poor families move out of poverty. If legislators can allow at least 48 months for TANF benefits, recipients will have adequate time to turn their lives around and begin a new life. The MCC calls on all our network members to contact your legislators. We can make a difference; let’s do it!

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