Missouri considers work requirement for people on food stamps

AP

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JEFFERSON CITY — Some state lawmakers want to impose a work requirement on able-bodied Missouri residents receiving food stamps as a prerequisite for them obtaining those benefits.

The Missouri Department of Social Services currently applies to the federal government for a waiver to exempt Missouri residents from having to prove they’re working in order to receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. While federal law calls for such a requirement, each state can decide on a case-by-case basis if they impose that regulation. State Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St.Peters, is proposing the state no longer apply for that waiver and begin to enact the federally mandated work requirement on Missouri residents.

This requirement would only be imposed on able-bodied adults without dependents. Children, senior citizens and people with disabilities, who make up two-thirds of Missouri residents on food stamps, would not have to comply with the work requirement, according to Cornejo.

State Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield and Jeanette Mott Oxford from Empower Missouri, a social advocacy organization that testified in opposition during a committee hearing on the bill, . Quade and Mott Oxford are concerned this could affect children staying with someone who receives food stamps but are not declared dependents.

Under a similar bill proposed by state Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, all heads of households would have to apply for work or job-training programs and would be sanctioned if they don’t, meaning it would cut the whole household and family off from food stamps.

In 2015, the Missouri Senate passed a bill requiring individuals who are eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, to comply with a work requirement to receive those benefits. A few of the representatives in the committee meeting commented on how the TANF work requirement caused thousands of Missouri residents and children to lose their benefits in the process.

Cornejo said, “What we’re trying to do here is make sure the people that are entitled to the benefits get the benefits.”If adults who are of able body don’t make work a priority, Cornejo wonders why the government should make it a priority to support them. The consensus between Cornejo and the majority of the members of the committee is that the ultimate goal is for impoverished Missouri residents to provide for themselves without government assistance.

However, Quade and Mott Oxford said kicking people off food stamps if they don’t comply with a work requirement had not proven in other cases, as they understood it, to make them any more self-sufficient.

“I fear something like this is going to add such burden,” Quade said. “Instead of using this as a pendulum to get out, they are just going to stay in very systemic poverty.”Mott Oxfordechoed that sentiment and said taking people off food stamps can potentially make them sick and, in the case of addicts, cause them to relapse. When the committee asked Oxford for her recommendation, she said a potential change to this bill could be that a personal case manager be assigned to those required to comply with the work requirement.

Samuel Lee, director for Campaign Life Missouri, also recommended to the committee that if Cornejo’s bill goes forward, there be categories added to the bill for people who could get food stamps more quickly. These categories would include domestic violence victims, sex-trafficking victims and pregnant women, who have potentially been kicked out of their house because of their pregnancy.The committee voted to pass the bill, and the next step is for it to be heard on the House floor.

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, horvitm@missouri.edu.

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