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Lobbyist Money Help  

Time running out for welfare recipients

May 08, 2003
By: Amaia Celorrio
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Carletta Connor has been a TANF (Temporary Assistance To Needy Families) recipient for four years, but in July, she'll be cut off welfare. That's because her five year time-limit for welfare -- imposed by federal law -- will expire.

"The five year limitation is terrible," Connor said. "I think the legislators should look at it and try to lift it. They should think that in the future, it could happen to them."

The TANF program was signed by Pres. Bill Clinton in 1996. Proponents argued the new program would focus on work and responsibility rather than welfare. Supporters also said the revised approach to welfare would provide states with flexibility to create the best approaches for their individual circumstances.

But as the deadline has had its effects, critics are raising their voices. Last July, 414 Missouri families exhausted their eligibility in the program.

"A five year time-limit is not good because it is not a path out of poverty," said Robin Acree, executive director of Grass Roots Organizing.

But loss of eligibility does not completely terminate state assistance. Funding for the parent's support ends, but funding for the child's support continues.

TANF reauthorization debate is going on in the U.S. Congress and it could make a big difference in the life of Connor's as well as other thousands of Missouri citizens.

Last February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to reauthorize Temporary Assistance for Needy Families by a vote of 230 to 192, despite strong Democratic opposition.

The bill mirrors the Bush Administration's proposal to increase work requirements from 30 to 40 hours per week, increase the mandatory work participation rate to 70 percent, and eliminate education as an allowable "core to work activity."

Currently, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee is redrafting the bill and it is expected to come to a vote, finish the conference report and send the final legislation to the President before funding for the current program ends June 30.

"There is a real key problem with increasing the work requirements to 40 hours and that is the lack of understanding that many recipients either cannot find jobs, cannot hold a job due to either health or mental health issues, or are in need of day care or transportation support," said Dianna Moore, executive director of Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

Education is another big issue in TANF reauthorization.

"Our proposal here in Missouri is to allow parents to pursue education up to five years," Acree said. "If this bill passes, it's not going to allow moms to study more than 3 months per year."

Moore also said that the elimination of education and job training was not going to solve the problem of people moving out of poverty.

"TANF doesn't reduce dependency and poverty. Many people who leave TANF to go to work only make minimum wage and they lack income for self-sustainability," Moore said. "Many people have to go to food banks, they need help with utility payments to be able to remain warm in the winter and need insurance programs such as the Missouri CHIPS program to provide basic health care for their children."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2000 figures, 15 percent of children in Missouri lived in poverty, and 8.6 percent of households were hungry or at risk of hunger.

"Protection of our children must become our highest priority, we must provide services to enable them to be healthy and be able to learn," Moore said. "Children will move out of poverty once their parents are able to work at a pay scale that will enable them to pay for the necessities of life."