Missouri lawmakers from both sides of the aisle appeared to be unaware of federal requirements during a debate last week about work stipulations for recipients in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.
Senate Bill 561 from Republican David Sater of Cassville would require non-exempt individuals to work at least 20 hours a week or face disqualification from SNAP.
Those people found to be noncompliant with the work rule would be disqualified from the benefits for three months while repeat offenders would lose eligibility for six months. Anybody found to be noncompliant for a third time would be permanently disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits.
But in order to implement the restrictions, the state would be required to provide payments to participants through an education and training program required by the federal government.
Reimbursable costs to those required to work for their SNAP benefits would include dependent care expenses, transportation, uniforms, personal safety items or other necessary equipment, and books or training manuals.
The federal government would pick up 50% of the education and training program costs, but the state would still be on the hook for the other half.
Republicans and Democrats, who are sharply divided about the work requirements bill, seemed oblivious to the federal stipulations, both during floor debate and a news conference with reporters the following day last week.
It’s possible lawmakers assumed the SNAP legislation would operate just as a welfare reform measure did a few years earlier.
A bill passed by the Republican-dominated legislature in 2015 stiffened work requirements to receive benefits, but did not come with federal requirements. The legislation applied to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
During a Thursday news conference, Senator Sater said the people who lost their TANF benefits in 2015 are working today, although he admitted to a reporter that the state has no way of tracking such results.
Jeannette Mott Oxford with Empower Missouri notes the SNAP measure now being considered is model legislation being distributed to state assemblies across the country by Florida-based free market think tank Foundation for Government Accountability.
Mott Oxford argues the state is not in a financial position to implement the SNAP work requirements.
“Our state is so cash strapped,” said Mott Oxford. “Last year we had a fight about ‘Do we cut off people with disabilities, or do we cut off seniors’, when it comes down to items that cost some money. I don’t know that we can afford to implement this kind of education and training program.”
Empower Missouri is a non-profit organization focused on protecting low-income people. Mott Oxford is a former Democratic state lawmaker.
As originally proposed, if a head of a household becomes disqualified for SNAP benefits, the entire household would become ineligible. During floor debate on the measure, Democrat Scott Sifton of Afton offered an amendment that would exclude any children under eighteen years of age from disqualification. The Senate then discontinued debate on the bill.
Sater told reporters Thursday his caucus would be working with Democrats to fine tune the measure and said he remained committed to its passage.
“It’s going to take some leg work, but I’m a strong proponent,” said Sater. “We only have 30% of people receiving SNAP that are work eligible, that are working. Only 30%. There’s plenty of jobs now.”
Democratic Senate Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors thinks the measure would create unnecessary barriers for people who really need assistance.
“You can’t get help if you don’t have a job,” Walsh said. “You can’t get a job if you don’t have a car to get to that job. And it goes on and on. It’s a vicious cycle. I don’t know how we end it. But we certainly don’t help the matter by reducing the benefits for folks who need them for their kids.”
It’s not certain when the Senate will take up the SNAP work requirements bill next on the chamber floor.