A law that took effect with the new year reduces how long needy families can receive temporary welfare assistance from 60 to 45 weeks. The Legislature voted last year to override the Governor’s veto of creating the cut.

Jeanette Mott Oxford. Photo courtesy of Empower Missouri.

Jeanette Mott Oxford. Photo courtesy of Empower Missouri.

Jeanette Mott Oxford with social welfare advocacy group Empower Missouri believes needy families might use food pantries more because of the reduction in assistance.

“A lot of people, I think, will try to rise to the occasion to meet the needs,” said Oxford. “We need more of that.”

Missouri ranks second highest in the nation for those struggling with access to food, according to a USDA report released in 2015. The report also found that almost 8% of Missourians fall into the very low food supply category, which ranks only behind Arkansas.

Oxford believes the change in state law could move Missouri even further down in future rankings.

“Rather than assuming they just need stronger punishment and everyone will just get their lives together, people who are this poor already experience a lot of their lives as punishment. Putting more punishment on them is not a motivator for success. Indeed, it becomes a barrier,” said Oxford. “A lot of folks believe that if you’re on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), you get so much aid from all kinds of other programs that you just basically have a very enjoyable lifestyle and you aren’t trying to help yourself. That is seldom true.”

Oxford said the state has not raised welfare benefits since 1991. The state increased the benefits $3 in 1991 from where they were in 1975.