JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) - Missouri is proposing to tighten eligibility for food stamps for thousands of adults who aren’t meeting work requirements.
Since 2009, Missouri has qualified for a waiver that allows able-bodied adult residents without children to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program despite failing to meet certain federal work requirements.
Missouri still qualifies for that waiver and probably would until the end of 2015. But the state Department of Social Services has proposed changing eligibility rules to waive the work requirements only in counties where the unemployment rate is higher than 10 percent. That would take the program back to the way it was prior to 2009.
Just four counties Caldwell, Hickory, Reynolds and Shannon had unemployment rates of 10 percent or more in August, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
In counties with unemployment rates lower than 10 percent, adults currently getting benefits would have three months to either find a job working at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a federally approved job training program.
Adults who lose their jobs after the rule change would be eligible for food stamps for only three months out of every three years.
Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said Tuesday the economy is improving and the temporary waiver is no longer necessary.
“I believe everyone has the ability to get the food that they need,” Kraus said. “We have these programs out there that are safety nets, food stamps and other programs, that allow people to get food in their times of need.”
But Missouri Food Bank Association Director Scott Baker sees a different side of the story.
“There are more and more people going to food pantries in the state of Missouri,” Baker said. “That doesn’t speak to any kind of improvement in the economy as far as I can tell.”
Missouri had about 915,000 people receiving food stamps in August. That’s down from a peak of nearly 962,000 in December 2011 but still well above the 724,000 recipients in August 2008. The federal government pays the full cost of the benefits while states administer the program.
The Missouri Association for Social Welfare’s Director Jeanette Mott Oxford said the proposed change wouldn’t give people incentive to find work.
“Making people hungry does nothing to actually improve our economy in any way,” Oxford said. “Hunger is actually a debilitator rather than a motivator when it comes to employment.”
Missouri has about 58,000 able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 50 without dependents who receive federal food stamp benefits. These recipients do not qualify for food stamps under the proposed change.
Before the Missouri change takes effect, there will be a public comment period. The rule change then will be reviewed by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The rulemaking process could take six months or more.
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