Lawmaker: Missouri officials fail to report effects of 2015 welfare cuts

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JEFFERSON CITY — More than two years after Republican lawmakers slashed welfare benefits to poor people, the state agency that administers the program has failed to issue a report outlining how the plan is working.

Information compiled by Sen. Jake Hummel shows the department charged with overseeing the reductions had not produced a report as of Dec. 1 and, despite promising to have one in his hands by Dec. 13, missed that self-imposed deadline also.

That has left supporters and opponents of the changes unable to fully analyze the effects of the cuts.

“Two years ago, Republican legislators passed a law to remove thousands of Missouri children from public assistance. At the time, they vowed to study its impact to see just how bad the damage would be. But now that they have one of their own in the Governor’s office, they’ve dropped the ball and failed to produce the information required by law. This is unacceptable,” Hummel said Wednesday.

The legislation approved by the GOP-led House and Senate limited the length of time families could receive the benefits from a lifetime maximum of 60 months to 45 months.

In addition, they ramped up requirements for low-income parents to get job training, do volunteer work or complete high school and vocational education.

The measure was vetoed by former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, who called the reductions “cruel.” But Republican lawmakers overrode him.

Under the work changes, recipients must sign a “personal responsibility plan” outlining their work activities before they are eligible for cash benefits. If they miss their work assignments, they must meet face-to-face with a caseworker. They would then have six weeks to get back on track. Initially they would lose 50 percent of their assistance. If the problem is not fixed, they lose the entire benefit.

An initial report on the program by the Department of Social Services showed that as of May 2016, a total of 4,134 families failed to meet the work requirement and were cut off from cash benefits averaging about $224 a month.

A separate report shows that spending on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program has dropped from $80.9 million in 2015 to $59.5 million in 2016.

While that report shows that 23 percent fewer families and children are receiving welfare benefits, Hummel said the document is not the annual report required by the new law.

The department, which is now controlled by Gov. Eric Greitens, has not provided a report of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. An agency spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for information Wednesday.

But, in an email to Hummel, Patrick Luebbering, director of the family support division at the Missouri Department of Social Services, suggested that the report may have been forgotten in the transition from Nixon to Greitens in January 2017.

“Some of the individuals involved with the reporting are no longer with DSS, so we are searching to see if another report was sent for the requirements under (the law,)” Luebbering wrote.

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