JEFFERSON CITY — Missourians will get to weigh in on a proposal to tighten eligibility for food stamps before any final decision is made, the director of the agency that oversees the program said Monday.
By JASON HANCOCK
The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent
Alyson Campbell, the director of the Family Support Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services, said the goal is to “get back to the spirit of the law in regard to work requirements.” But until the public and interested groups get a chance to have their voices heard, “I don’t think the die is cast,” she said.
“We want to consider the comments we get and choose the best course for the people of Missouri,” Campbell said.
Since 2009, Missouri has received a statewide waiver from the federal government allowing able-bodied adults without children to qualify for food stamps despite failing to meet certain federal work requirements. Previously, the waiver only applied to counties with unemployment rates higher than 10 percent.
The federal government pays 100 percent of food stamp benefits. States pick up the cost of running the program.
Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration announced last month that it planned to let the statewide waiver expire and return to the county-by-county model. According to August data, only three rural counties would qualify under that system.
It is projected that Missouri probably would qualify for the statewide waiver — and the additional federal money that comes with it — through 2015.
Missouri currently has about 58,000 able-bodied adults without dependents who receive food stamps. If the change takes effect, an unemployed adult would have three months to find a job working at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a federally approved job training program. Otherwise, he or she would no longer receive food stamps.
Nixon’s proposal drew immediate criticism from his fellow Democrats, who felt there was no reason to turn away federal funds that could help Missourians who were struggling to make ends meet. They also worried the change would increase the burden on local food banks and charities that already are stretched thin.
Nixon’s administration originally sought to change the eligibility rules immediately. That plan was abandoned, Campbell said, in order to go through the normal rule-making process. Under that system — which could take six months or more — there will be a public comment period and a review of the proposal by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The state will accept written comments, and the legislative committee could choose to hold public hearings.
“We really do want to hear from them so that we can decide what we want to have in place in Missouri to have minimal impact on people who might have circumstances that would truly prevent them from attaining employment,” Campbell said.
Earlier this month, Nixon told the political news website PoliticMO that the prospect of Congress cutting food stamp funds motivated the state’s decision to let the waiver expire. Campbell said there are serious concerns about any potential funding cuts at the federal level, but those concerns did not factor in to the state’s decision.