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No Mo. Cuts from GOP Welfare Plan

September 20, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY _ Congressional plans to cut welfare spending would not force cuts in Missouri's main child-welfare program, according to the state's top welfare official.

In the aftermath of U.S. Senate approval of an overhaul in the nation's welfare system, the director of Missouri's Social Services Department said Wednesday that Missouri should not see any cuts in its welfare assistance programs in the short term.

"We won't be required to cut anything, as things stand now," said Gary Stangler, director of the state Social Services Department.

Different bills passed by both the House and Senate would end the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in exchange for a block grant system, giving states the power to distribute cash payments to the poor.

In return for removing federal requirement, federal funding would be reduced to 1994 levels.

While that may cause problems for states with rising welfare roles, it has just the opposite effect in Missouri where, Stangler said, the number of people on welfare has declined. Thus, federal funding actually should go farther under the Congressional plans, Stangler said.

"Missouri has proven it knows how to get people off welfare. Under the leadership of Gov. Carnahan we have been successful getting people off the system," Stangler said. "In Missouri, 20,000 people have left welfare in the last 18 months."

In August, nearly 87,000 low-income families received AFDC payments in Missouri _ covering 172,000 children. The average family payment was $256 for the month _ for a total AFDC cost of $22 million.

In addition to an improving economy, Stangler credited the state's job-training program for welfare recipients for helping drop Missouri's welfare case load.

"In terms of what welfare should look like, we're in a better position here in Missouri than anywhere else in the country," Stangler said.

While the short term financial impact should be minimal, Stangler warned that in a recession, taxpayers will feel the bite.

"There are many hidden unfunded mandates that will cost taxpayers in the long run," he said.

Stangler also complained that the Congressional plans did not give the state enough flexibility.

"Calling them block grants is a misnomer," Stangler said. "The money is laden down with strings and requirements. They tell us who to cover, when to cover, how much to cover and for how long."

Both the House and Senate bills would require welfare recipients to work after two years of benefits and impose a five-year lifetime limit on payments.

"A five year cap would be okay if the economy can create enough jobs," Stangler said. But he said that in a worst case scenario, many more children would end up in foster care, a program that costs the state five to six times more than welfare.

Congress now must resolve the differences between the more conservative House bill and the Clinton-supported Senate bill.

Differences include funding for child care, increasing benefits for mothers who have more children and denying benefits to teenage mothers.

Stangler is especially critical of the family cap.

"It is child exclusion and poor public policy," he said. "It is also an incentive for abortions."