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Republicans accuse Carnahan government of not implementing Welfare Reform

October 18, 1999
By: Sakina Dewji
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - State Republicans claim that Democrats have stalled the implementation of mass welfare reforms passed by the federal government in 1997.

The federal law that includes a two-year restriction on temporary assistance took effect for Missouri on July 1, 1997 -- making July 1, 1999 the deadline for the first wave of welfare recipients to either get a job, enroll in school or lose their benefits.

Despite the July 1 deadline, state welfare officials say no Missouri welfare recipients have been dropped from getting aid despite non-compliance by some recipients.

The federal government allows states to continue assistance to recipients who do not comply with the federal requirements. However, the level of assistance offered by the state must be reduced -- with provisions for exemption from the reductions.

Missouri got an exemption from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that lets Missouri use state funds to make up for any loss in federal money for a recipient who missed the deadline and was not sanctioned.

"That is typical of the Carnahan administration," said Missouri Senate GOP Leader Steve Ehlmann, R-St. Charles. Ehlmann said the administration's actions were similar to its refusal to accept state legislative restrictions on family-planning funding.

"They did that with the Planned Parenthood and now they are doing it with the welfare reform," Ehlmann said in reference to the administration's continued funding for Planned Parenthood despite legislative efforts to block state funds for the organization.

Deb Hendricks, spokeswoman for the Social Services Department said that 766 people statewide who didn't get a job or get into school had been sanctioned by a 25 percent reduction to their benefits since 1997.

"Nobody lost benefits because of the date on a calender," Hendricks said.

According to Marta Halter, spokeswoman for the Division of Family Services in Boone County, 30 temporary assistance recipients out of the 800 currently on welfare in Boone County did not meet the specified criteria and were contacted.

"It was helpful," said Halter about the deadline. "It brought a pretty good response."

She said those who did not comply with the requirements and received a 25% reduction had many different reasons.

In signing the federal "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act" Pres. Bill Clinton proclaimed it would end "welfare as we know it."

There is, however, one deadline the state cannot ignore. That's a five-year limit on how long a person can get welfare.

According to Hendricks, that limit will apply starting July 1, 2001 for those on welfare since 1996.

The latest Social Services Department statistics show that 124,296 Missourians or about 2.3 percent of the state's population is on welfare.

The department claims that overall, Missouri has moved ahead in getting people off welfare and into jobs. According to the department, 134,743 people have left welfare since 1993.

Ehlmann, however, said that it was the booming economy that was responsible for the reduction of people on welfare and not any government program.

According to Ehlmann, Republicans have been saying for ages that the way to reduce poverty is a strong economy and not welfare reform.

The federal Health and Human Services Department however claims that since the federal welfare law was passed, a large number of people who had been dependent on welfare nationwide have moved beyond and are now working.

One program state officials highlight is a program in which employers that offer work opportunities are matched with suitable welfare recipients. This initiative includes more than 12,600 employers statewide.

Tony Barbis is spokesman for Boone Works, a work opportunity program in Boone County. He says more than 100 people have moved from receiving public assistance into jobs since January.

"It's been quite successful from a very early perspective," Barbis said.

As part of this plan, employers get state subsidies to provide jobs to people on welfare. The limit for such subsidies is 12 months.

Other employers may get a tax credit equal to 40 percent of qualified wages. Benefits to employees, depending on their circumstances, include Medicaid, Food Stamps, transportation and other work-related expenses.

The state welfare agency says the focus of the whole program is to look beyond welfare.

Barbis said that people get recycled into poverty when they are on public assistance and the program aimed to help people out of that. "It's an American dream to be able to support yourself and your family," Barbis said.