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

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

Credit Flickr | Paul Sableman

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 realMissouriansisgoing tobe," Carpenter said.  "On day one, Jan. 1 of 2016, 12,000 children, and 18,000 people total, will be dropped (fromTANF), 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

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Marshall Griffin is the Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshall Griffin
St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.
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