JEFFERSON CITY _ An invitation to attend a welfare simulation seminar has some Missouri House Republicans expressing outrage. They say it's not that they don't want to learn more about the welfare system, but because attendance is mandatory for the new GOP welfare reform bill to receive a hearing by the House Social Services Comittee.
If you ask a Missouri legislator if they've ever been on welfare, most likely the answer is no.
That's the explanation Committee Chairman Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City, cites for the March 7 welfare simulation seminar.
"To vote on a (welfare) bill, I think it's best to put on the shoes of those who walk in the welfare world," Boucher said.
Boucher said the reason behind the seminar is to educate House Republicans who are trying to push welfare reform through the General Assembly about life as a welfare recipient.
"That way they can see it from the welfare perspective, not the middle class perspective, or the Republican perspective," he said
"I want them to have a deep understanding of what welfare is," Boucher said.
But House Minority Floor Leader Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he is angered that in order for the GOP bill to be heard, Republicans must attend the simulation.
"For him to require as if we were some kind of school child to attend a seminar is an outrage," Richardson said.
Richardson said he does understand what welfare is. In a memo, he wrote that Boucher's invitation implies Republicans haven't researched the state of the welfare system. This is false, he wrote.
"This action is a continuing example of the undue power given to committee chairmen and the Speaker of the House," Richardson said.
The seminar will proceed the committee hearing on the new GOP welfare reform bill, which would place a 24-month limit on AFDC payments and would punish recipients who aren't enrolled in job training or community service programs by reducing their payments.
During the simulation, participants would get hands on experience of what it's like to be on welfare, said Janette Mott-Oxford, executive director of the Reform Organization for Welfare, known as ROWEL.
ROWEL is an organization of low income Missourians whose goal is to educate the public about welfare and to change public policy. ROWEL started the welfare simulation seminars in the early 1980s.
To experience life as a welfare recipient, lawmakers would receive family packets describing a typical Missouri family on welfare. Each family has different assets, bills, employment situations and environments.
There also would be a make-believe community with stores, a bank, a food pantry, an employment office, and other resources that welfare recipients use.
After participants divide into their family groups, the bell will ring and the simulation will begin.
"We do four 15-minute weeks to see if they can survive the state of poverty," Mott-Oxford said.
During this time, lawmakers will tackle similar situations that welfare recipients might face. For example, a lawmaker would have to figure out what to do if his or her landlord didn't give a receipt after rent payment, and then tried to collect money twice.
"It's a very hands-on experience," Mott-Oxford said.