Thousands of Missourians face cutoff of welfare aid

Monday, July 1, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Hundreds of poor Missourians were to lose their cash welfare benefits today because of a five-year time limit required under a federal law.

Of Missouri's 48,000 families receiving temporary cash benefits through the state Department of Social Services, 414 will have exhausted their eligibility today.

A 1996 federal law broadened states' authority to reform their welfare systems and required a five-year cutoff for the monthly cash benefits, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. States had the option to decide when their five-year clock would start running. Missouri picked July 1, 1997.

While Monday will mark the first wave of cutoffs, additional families will lose their benefits with each passing month, including the household headed by Trisha Hogan of Mexico, Mo.

Hogan, who has a 14-year-old son, will lose $234 a month and her Medicaid benefits later this year under the federal deadline. Though she works various part-time jobs while attending college, Hogan does not expect to qualify for a hardship benefit extension.

"I'll probably have to go to work at lower-paying jobs, which will keep me at the poverty level and cut down on the amount of time I can go to school," Hogan says. "There are going to be a lot of children who become homeless because parents will be losing their support."

Hogan said she is concerned about making ends meet for both herself and her son.

"It's going to be really hard," Hogan said. "At this point, I don't know how I am going to take care of my son. "

Fewer on rolls

The Department of Social Services said last week that Missouri's public assistance rolls have dropped more than 50 percent since the state began overhauling its welfare program in 1993 to focus on moving recipients into jobs.

But the department said the 414 families who will lose benefits have refused to cooperate with the department's requests that they work toward self-sufficiency.

"We are concerned about the welfare of the families" affected by the deadline, said Kathy Martin, the social services director. "However, the federal law and state regulations are very clear about what must occur when people refuse to cooperate in planning for employment. These families must lose their benefits at the end of five years."

The law allows the department to continue assistance to 20 percent of families facing the five-year cutoff. Those eligible include people who are age 60 or older, are disabled or are the parent of a child less than 1 year old.

'Not just caseloads'

Robin Acree, an advocate for Grass Roots Organization, a group that lobbies on behalf of low-income and needy Missourians, said a lot of pain will be caused when the benefits slowly phase out.

"I think the American public needs to understand that a lot of families live in deep poverty and a job is not necessarily going to move them out of poverty," Acree said.

Acree said that the average pay for a parent receiving temporary cash benefits is about $6 an hour, which she said is barely enough to live on. Without the benefits, "They are really out there on their own. We need a welfare reform law."

Acree said most of the affected families are in Jackson County and St. Louis but that there are some recipients losing their benefits in nearly all parts of the state.

"We need to protect our families and reduce poverty, not just caseloads," Acree said.

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