According to data from the Missouri Division of Family Services, changes in state law passed by the Missouri legislature in 2015 have led to about 41,000 Missourians losing food stamps this year. A 1996 federal welfare law limited food stamp benefits to three months out of every three years for childless, nondisabled adults unless they are working 20 hours a week or participating in a qualified job training program. Congress gave states the option to request a waiver of the provision in areas with high unemployment. Jeanette Mott Oxford with a social welfare group called Empower Missouri says the state law prohibits Missouri from extending those benefits beyond the three month time frame.

Jeanette Mott Oxford. Photo courtesy of Empower Missouri.

“The legislators believe that around $5 a day in food stamps was enough to keep people from looking for work, which we maintained is absolute craziness,” says Mott Oxford.

She says studies show that about 60% of women on welfare are domestic violence victims.

“They’re having to hide out kind of, because letting anybody know where they are can endanger their life or the life of their kids. That’s when all the wheels fall off of the bus, right. Then we say we want you to be self-sufficient,” says Mott Oxford.

The law has also cut off about 19,000 needy Missouri children of temporary welfare benefits this year. Those qualifying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program can receive benefits for 45 months in a lifetime instead of the previous 60 months.

According to Mott Oxford, a former St. Louis state Representative, the average Missouri family receiving TANF benefits is $227 a month. She says those requesting the benefits shouldn’t feel guilty until proven innocent.

“Who cares if there’s high unemployment in your county. You can find some work somehow. You can magically invent a car. I suddenly had a picture of Fred Flintstone in his little mobile where he’s peddling things with his feet,” says Mott Oxford. “You can somehow solve his problem if you just would is the philosophy.”

She says many people who are not officially considered disabled need help. They have depended on TANF benefits because they don’t qualify for many other assistance options.

“You can either make too little or you can make too much. There’s only a little window of people that we will serve because of our failure to modernize the rules, to modernize the earnings rules, to modernize how much people make on TANF,” says Mott Oxford.

Republicans says changes to welfare laws needed to be made to help people set goals and find work. They argue that those being removed from such programs have been on public assistance for too long and the money saved from cutting people off of these benefits are being invested in getting recipients back to work.