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Legislators Told of Welfare Realities

By: ELISA CROUCH
State Capital Bureau

March 08, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Christina Young, an M.U. nursing student, clutched a portrait of her 19-month-old daughter and sobbed as she testified about life as a welfare recipient in front of the 13 members of the House Social Services Committee.

"The way I had my life planned, I would earn my degree, get married and three years into the marriage have my first child."

But that changed when she said she unexpectantly got pregnant. Now _ 23 years old and a single mother _ she's on welfare.

"I live off of $234 a month and food stamps," Young said between tears. But after paying bills, "I may have $40. And I have to stretch that $40 to pay for clothes, Pampers, household necessities like toilet paper and toothpaste," she said.

"I am a typical mother on welfare in that I see the system as a temporary method to survive."

Young appeared before the committee late Tuesday night to testify against a Republican plan to clamp down on welfare.

Democratic opponents to the GOP welfare package say it would hurt people like Young, who are using the welfare system to pull themselves up.

But Republicans contend that its the dependency on the system that hurts recipients the most. "When dependency grows, dignity goes," said Rep. Mary Kasten, R-Cape Girardeau, who is co-sponsor of the proposed welfare legislation.

"I think our bill is geared more toward those who use and abuse the system and have no desire to move off of it," Kasten said. "There are people who are on welfare for generations, and we've got to break that cycle."

The two main components of the legislation is limiting AFDC benefits to 24 months and giving counties the power to set up their communities' welfare programs.

Other provisions in the GOP plan include:

* No additional money for additional children born.

* A monthly $50 incentive to attend school 90 percent of the time.

* No benefits for drug offenders unless they take part in drug rehabilitation and parenting programs.

* A $10 co-payment requirement from Medicaid patients when they use hospital emergency rooms for nonemergency illnesses or injuries.

* Mandatory community service in exchange for benefits.

Democratic opponents call the package punitive. But Republicans who are behind the legislation say that it is a step in the right direction. Forcing recipients off AFDC, which is Missouri's main welfare program, would force them to find work, they say.

"If you look at the present system, it raises a lot of concerns," said Rep. Pat Kelley, R-Lees Summit, who co-sponsored the bill with Kasten. "The current system has many flaws in it. There are more incentives not to work that to work, its more beneficial not to get married than to get married."

"Ultimately, we have got to get control of this system," Kelley said.

The chances that the bill will emerge from committee are slim.

"It just has too many holes in it," said committee member Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, who said he won't support the bill. "I think the intentions are good, but it's a punitive bill."

Harlan said that the General Assembly should wait to pass any more major changes in the welfare system until the governor's welfare package passed last year takes effect.

The committee hasn't decided on when it will vote on the bill, said Chairman Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City.