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Legislators Wait for Welfare overhaul

December 13, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The U.S. Congress has forced Missouri legislature to push onto the back burner what normally is one of the biggest issues for state lawmakers - welfare.

The reason is the GOP Congressional plan to overhaul the nation's welfare system.

Various proposals in Congress would force the legislature to make major and fundamental changes in the state's welfare system.

But without final passage of a Congressional plan and approval by the president, states like Missouri can only speculate.

There has been some fear expressed in Missouri's Capitol that final Congressional action may come too late for the state legislature to act before the spring adjournment - possibly forcing a special session in the summer.

"We are holding our breath over federal welfare reform," said Rep. Bill BoucherD-Kansas City and chairman of the Social Services, Medicaid and the Elderly Committee

If Congress implements a new block grant system of distributing services to the poor, Boucher said his committee will play a significant role in setting the new guidelines for the state.

Block grants are lump sum payments the federal government gives to the states. They provide states greater autonomy to run traditionally federal programs. In their efforts to return power to the states, Republicans in Congress have embraced the block grant approach for many of their welfare initiatives.

Boucher said there will most likely be strings attached to the block grant funds and there may be 20 percent less money to work with. This could result in program cuts he said.

Sen. J.T. HowardD-Dexter and Chairman of the Aging, Families and Mental Health Committeeagrees.

"Congress is balancing the budget on the backs of the states," Howard said. "Our committee's priority is meeting needs despite federal cuts."

While lawmakers wait for a final welfare package out of Washington, they have named other social initiatives they plan to consider next year.

Legislation focusing on children and the elderly top the agenda. These include:

* Stronger enforcement of child-support laws

* Stronger visitation rights for parents

* Stronger regulation governing adoption

* Consumer protections in pre-need funeral trust funds

* Creating a separate department for elderly programs

* Regulation of in-home services for the elderly

* Stronger guidelines for nursing home inspectors