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Ticket to Work program reintroduced

February 13, 2006
By: David Castillo
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - One Missouri legislator introduced a bill Monday that would reinstitute a program that allows beneficiaries of social security and disability checks to work without the fear of losing their benefits.

Rep. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin, hopes to revise the Ticket-to-Work progam, which was eliminated last year. The new bill, Portwood says, prescribes narrower eligibility requirements and would control costs of a program he said spiraled out of control.

"We expected it to cost $19 million a year when we implemented the program in 2001," Portwood said. "By 2005, however, we were spending up to $14 million a month."

Portwood says that under his bill, the state would spend an amount of money closer to the originally intended amount. Approximately $7 million dollars would come from the state's general revenue and $12 million from federal revenue.

Part of the problem with the old program, says Portwood, is that allowed too much room for abuse.

"Essentially, you could be making $24,000 a year and be eligible for the program and yet be married to someone who makes $100,000 a year," Portman said. "The program was just not covering the people we wanted to cover."

His legislation targets 3,200 Missourians with disabilities and will include many of those who work in sheltered workshops. These workshops hire the severely disabled and they employ about 7,500 people all over the state.

"Those in sheltered workshops deserve the opportunity to experience the dignity and self-respect that comes from hard work without losing access to needed, sometimes very expensive healthcare," said Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill.

One key provision of the bill is that it is better designed to put individuals on the path to self-dependence, says Portwood.

"We're giving a means for people with disabilities to achieve something better," Portwood said. "It's important to create a program that is compassionate and fiscally conservative.

Portwood says the bill has much bipartisan support--nearly 60 co-sponsors--and he expects easy passage noting that the Speaker of the House has put it on a fast track. Others, however, are not so ready to commit their support for the bill.

"The Senator is in favor of reinstituting the ticket-to-work program because it was a mistake to cut it," said Ted Farnen, Chief-of-staff for Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. "But we don't know all the details of the bill yet."

Representative Portwood expects the bill to be heard on the House floor as early as Thursday afternoon.