Agency urges final push on welfare reform bill

An effort by the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) to urge state lawmakers to pass welfare reform that will help poor families lift themselves out of poverty has worked -- with one important step remaining.

The public policy agency of the state's bishops is asking people to contact legislators as they return to the state capitol March 30 from their spring break.

Mike Hoey, executive director of the MCC, said legislation being considered by the Missouri General Assembly has the potential to help poor families if the measure allows recipients adequate time to participate in support services such as job training and education.

Senate Bill 24, sponsored by state Sen. David Sater, R-Mt. Vernon, would make changes to the temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program. Different versions of the bill have passed the Missouri Senate and House, and those differences will need to be resolved before a bill is sent to Gov. Jay Nixon for his consideration.

As passed by the House, TANF recipients can receive no more than 30 months of benefits in their lifetime. In urging the Senate version of SB 24, which sets the lifetime benefit limit at 48 months (a reduction from the current 60 months), Hoey said, "Legislators need to recognize that it takes time to help people turn their lives around. These parents face serious barriers to employment. They lack transportation and education, many have few job skills, some have been the victims of domestic violence, and some are trying to overcome alcohol and drug addictions."

The Senate version of SB 24 "gives recipients time to fully participate in the required TANF activities such as job training, additional education, as well as community service and part-time employment that could lead to a full time job," Hoey said.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis also has urged a vote for the Senate version as a more reasonable time frame to allow a struggling parent to address personal issues and find work.

TANF provides cash assistance to poor families. To be eligible, a mother with two children must have a monthly income of no more than $292 a month. "These are the poorest of the poor," said Hoey.

The MCC has obtained changes to the bill such as face-to-face meetings with caseworkers where recipients sign a personal responsibility pact and develop a plan to move out of poverty.

The MCC has also convinced lawmakers to improve TANF by as encouraging marriage and the formation of two-parent families.

As passed by the House, SB 24 allocates $4.3 million for programs that promote healthy marriages and two-parent families. It also allocates $4.3 million for alternative to abortion services. The funding come from federal sources.

Information for this story was provided by the Missouri Catholic Conference.

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