Lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would cut thousands of low-income Missourians off of a federal welfare program.
Meantime, Nixon vetoed a separate bill that would cut the amount of time a laid-off worker could collect jobless benefits to 13 weeks from 20 weeks. Republican leaders spoke confidently that they could override that veto, too.
Tuesday’s override vote on the welfare bill took place in the House, with 113 lawmakers voting in favor and 32 voting against. The Senate voted to override Monday evening on a 25-9 vote.
The welfare bill lowers the lifetime limit for how long families can stay on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years to three years and nine months. It also imposes sanctions on a family receiving benefits if an adult does not comply with work requirements. And it requires individuals to be working or looking for a job before getting food stamps.
The Department of Social Services estimates that roughly 9,500 people — 6,400 of whom are children — would lose their access to benefits in the first year.
Rep. Diane Franklin, a Camdenton Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation will encourage people on welfare to find a job, get off government assistance and “escape the trap of poverty.”
“There are jobs out there,” Franklin said. “There are good jobs out there.”
When Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the bill last week, he cited concerns that it would punish children for the actions of their parents. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat, echoed that sentiment Tuesday, saying the bill will ensure “Missouri’s poorest children are plunged even deeper into poverty.”
“Missouri Republicans are engaged in nothing short of an all-out war on the poor,” he said, “and unfortunately, they are winning.”
The legislation would set up an intervention system if parents don’t follow work or education requirements, including face-to-face meetings with social workers. If the requirements aren’t being met after six weeks, families would lose half of their benefits. All benefits would cut off after 10 weeks.
About 15 percent of Missouri’s welfare population is meeting current work requirements, which puts the state near the bottom in that area, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
“We want to help,” said Rep. Mike Moon, a Republican from Ash Grove, “but they have a responsibility to help themselves.”
Any savings from the bill’s changes will be redirected to help pay for other safety-net programs, such as child care assistance or job training. Additionally, 2 percent of TANF funds will be allocated to alternatives to abortion services and awareness programs, as well as 2 percent to promote healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood.
Critics of the legislation say those who reach the lifetime limits typically face significant barriers to employment, such as lack of education, unstable housing or mental and physical health problems.
A 2013 study by the University of Maine found that families kicked off TANF because of exceeding lifetime benefits in that state experienced increased reliance on food banks, inability to pay utility and other bills, and overcrowded housing conditions or reliance on homeless shelters.
The Missouri income guidelines for benefit recipients haven’t been updated since 1993. A family of three can earn no more than $846 a month in salary to receive $292 a month in benefits.
The average amount of monthly benefits is about $230 per family.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback signed new welfare restrictions last month setting shorter time limits for how long a person can receive benefits and enacting new limits on where a beneficiary can spend money.
The unemployment bill vetoed by Nixon on Tuesday would link the number of weeks a worker could receive benefits to the statewide average unemployment rate. He vetoed a similar bill last year.
Under the bill, if the unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, laid-off workers could only collect 13 weeks of benefits. The longest a worker could receive benefits is 20 weeks, and only if the unemployment rate is higher than 9 percent.
Supporters say the changes would strengthen the state’s unemployment system and ensure it is solvent in the future. But critics counter the bill would unfairly affect people living in areas of the state with higher-than-average unemployment.
“Eighty years ago, America was in the throes of the Great Depression,” Nixon said in a letter to lawmakers announcing his veto. “This dark moment in our nation’s history lasted far longer than 13 weeks. And the recession experienced earlier this decade did not abate after a mere three months either.”
When the unemployment bill cleared the House last month it garnered only 88 votes — 21 shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. House Speaker John Diehl, a St. Louis County Republican, has said he’s confident he’ll be able to muster enough support for an override.