Missouri senators on Monday voted to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill removing several thousand families from a welfare program.
It was a move Nixon said would make Missouri’s limits among the lowest in the nation.
The Republican-led Senate voted 25-9 to pass a measure that cuts the lifetime limit for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that provides cash assistance to low-income residents from 5 years to 3 years and 9 months. The bill also imposes stricter work requirements.
The measure now moves to the House, where Republicans hold a two-thirds majority that’s needed to complete the veto override. Nixon has warned that the measure would be harmful to children.
Sponsoring Sen. David Sater said the changes would encourage low-income parents to find work.
“Right now, this program is actually causing more of a dependency on government,” said Sater, a Republican from Cassville. “I want to stop that; I want to see families on their own, self-sufficient.”
The proposal is part of a push by Republicans in several states to scale back the social safety net in what they characterize as an effort to encourage personal responsibility. In Kansas, for example, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback recently approved a measure barring the use of cash assistance for concerts, tattoos, lingerie and several other times.
Missouri’s legislation would make it among the 10 most restrictive states for the duration of welfare benefits. Two-year limits are imposed on families in Arizona, Arkansas and Idaho. Indiana also has a 2-year limit, but it applies only to adults, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Missouri’s lower limits would kick 3,155 families off of the program starting January 1, according to Department of Social Services estimates. Nixon said that translates to about 6,400 children.
The most a single parent with 2 children can get from Missouri’s program is $292 per month.
Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, of St. Louis, said that’s not enough for a family to live on and that most people are looking for work. She asserted that the tougher provisions could lead parents to turn to crime to get money to buy food for their children.
“If they have to go rob, shoot, steal, kill, that’s what many of those individuals may do,” she told colleagues. “You need to think about the unintended consequences.”
The measure also would impose sanctions for the entire family if a parent doesn’t comply with requirements to work, volunteer, attend school or take job training. 6 weeks after a face-to-face meeting with a social worker, noncompliant adults would lose half their family’s benefits. All benefits would be cut off after an additional 10 weeks.
The Social Services Department estimates more than 6,600 families could lose benefits for violating work requirements.
The legislation would also require people to engage in work activities before becoming eligible for benefits and create a lump-sum option within the cash assistance program.
Any savings from the changes would be redirected to other initiatives for low-income families, such as child care, transportation and education assistance. A portion would also go toward funding alternatives to abortion and promoting marriage and fatherhood.