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Welfare Cuts Looming

September 26, 1996
By: ELIZABETH McKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - In less than a week, thousands of Missourians will experience the first wave of federal welfare reform. Thanks to federal legislation, people who receive food stamps might not get some of their benefits starting October 1.

"Every household, unless they're at a minimum allotment of $10, I think, is very likely to see a reduction of benefits starting October 1," said Carmen Schulze, family service division director.

The hardest hit by the cut: singles, aged 18-50. Those people will have to work at least 20 hours a week, or be enrolled in a work supplemental program to get food stamps. If they don't, they can get only three months worth of stamps over a three year period.

Of the 539,697 on food stamps as of August, 54,215 are singles aged 18-50 and, thus, covered by the new restrictions.

Gary Stangler, Social Service Department director, said one challenge the department will face is the creation of more jobs and more community work experience programs for people to use as a transition into the labor force. In an statewide teleconference to department workers earlier this month, Strangler said small businesses will play a crucial role.

"Those are where the job growth is going to be, particularly in the minority community," he said.

Stangler also said the department will have to pay more attention to job retention programs. He said employers participating in job placement programs said that they would like to see less emphasis on wage supplements and more on programs that create dependable employees.

Right now, 80 of the 144 counties in the state have direct job placement programs, Schulze said.

Other food stamp recipients will see changes as well. They will not be getting as big an increase in stamp money because of the 3 percent cut in federal funding.

"It isn't really a decrease, but it certainly isn't an increase," said Sandy Cole, income maintenance manager for the Social Service Department.

Cole said every October, cases are evaluated and usually increased. But this year, there will not be as big an increase. She estimated a single person household will only get a $1 increase; last year, singles received a $3-$4 increase.

Already, local food pantries are gearing up for an increase in those needing help. Captain Max Gindle, with the Salvation Army, said requests for food have been increasing over the last few years.

"Once Social Service has cut food stamps, we will receive a lot of requests," Grindle said.

He said single parents are the most likely to ask for help, but families and singles need help as well.

"Basically, they're people who are getting minimum wage jobs and can't make the money go," he said.

The Salvation Army can only help families four times a year. The second time a family comes for help, Grindle said families are taught about budgeting with help from MU's extension program.

Grindle said he did not know where they would get the extra food they anticipate needing.

The department plans to notify welfare and food stamp recipients through flyers posted on office walls and place in the mail with checks and stamps, Stangler said.

Another change for the Social Service Department will be the so-called "pass throughs." Single mothers with deadbeat dads now automatically get $50 when the dad sends the check to the state. The federal law will eliminate those pass throughs provided to about 12,000 Missouri families.

The state will make up that loss with extra state funds for the time being, Stangler said. But ultimately, the legislature -- which convenes in January -- would have to approve year-round funding to replace the pass throughs.

While other cuts are expected in department programs, they have yet to be announced.

Stangler said he did not envision reduction in jobs or layoffs in his department.