JEFFERSON CITY _ State Republican House members are proposing a new welfare reform package after a previous GOP welfare bill floundered in a Democratic-controlled House committee earlier this year.
Sixty-six of the 77 Republican House members are sponsoring the new welfare bill that, like the one defeated in committee, would cut Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients after 24 months.
Rep. Glenn Hall, R-Grain Valley, is co-sponsor of the defeated bill and member of the committee that killed it. He said the bill's 24-month time limitation was what committee members didn't like. With similar language on the new GOP welfare reform attempt, "I will say it's an uphill fight to get it through the committee," Hall said.
But the 24-month limitation is as similar as the two bills get. Unlike the first, the new bill wouldn't deny AFDC benefits to single mothers under 21. Nor would it force fathers to participate in community service programs if they fail to pay child support.
"It was too punitive, basically," said Rep. Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City, who chairs the committee that killed the bill.
As for the new one, "There's still a lot of stuff I'm not crazy about," Boucher said. However, he later said that the bill has a good chance of making it onto the House floor.
Under the new plan, married parents with dependent children would be eligible for AFDC aid. This, Republicans say, would encourage marriage.
"It sets forth what we think is the direction we need to go, which is more pro-family and pro-responsibility," said Rep. Mary Kasten, R-Cape Girardeau, who wrote the new legislation.
If passed, the bill also would prohibit Medicaid recipients from using the emergency room for non-emergency care. Medicaid recipients who do so anyway rather than consulting a private physician would pay the hospital a $10 co-payment.
The new legislation would deny recipients who are convicted of drug violations AFDC benefits, unless they enroll in rehabilitation and parenting programs.
Rather than the state dictating welfare programs, as it does now, the bill would diffuse the power to counties, which would establish local welfare policies, expenditures and scope.
Rep. Brent Evans, R-Manchester, didn't sign the new GOP bill and said giving welfare programs to counties is why.
"That seems like an expansion of government," Evans said.
But even without county empowerment, Evans said he wouldn't have signed the bill because he said it doesn't go far enough.
"I'd like to see a stronger bill come out that would reduce the illegitimacy rate, increase the work ethic and reduce the costs of programs," Evans said.
Following the national theme of working for welfare checks, the GOP plan threatens to reduce AFDC payments by 5 percent if a recipient isn't involved in community service or job training programs within the first six months on AFDC.
Exceptions to this would be recipients who are disabled or who care for a disabled spouse or child, have children under age 2 or who already work 80 hours per month.
"I know there's a lot of people on welfare who can't work, but this is trying to address those who can and have a choice," said Rep. Rex Barnett, R-Maryville.
Some critics of the defeated GOP welfare reform bill contended that the plan did not provide for single parents who needed day care in order to participate in job training and community service.
The new plan stipulates that competent AFDC recipients could meet their community-service requirement by providing child care for other AFDC recipients.
One thing not in the new plan is the elimination of single mothers under the age of 21 from receiving AFDC payments that had been in the original GOP bill.
To encourage graduation, the GOP plan would give AFDC mothers an extra $50 a month for attending school 90 percent of the time. If attendance would drop to 75 percent, the result would be a $50 reduction from that month's check.
Despite differences between the old and the new GOP welfare packages, committee member Rep. Deleta Williams, D-Warrensburg, said that her objection to further welfare reform legislation will remain the same.
"We passed a welfare reform bill last year that I think was very good," Williams said. "My main goal was to give the bill we passed last year a chance to work before we pass something else."
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