Making Strides toward Welfare Reform
It’s only fair to insist that for someone to receive welfare benefits in Missouri, they should at least be alive, actually reside in the state, and not be in prison. Missouri SB 607, which takes effect on August 28, is intended to help the state enforce these basic requirements. It requires the Department of Social Services (DSS) to contract out verification of Missourians’ eligibility for welfare benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and MO HealthNet, to a private firm by January 1, 2017. Both DSS and the contractor will have to file an annual report with the Governor concerning eligibility data. This system should help ensure that those receiving benefits are actually entitled to them, a topic we have written on before.
While DSS retains final authority, the contractor will evaluate recipients’ eligibility more often than DSS has previously. SB 607 requires the contractor to evaluate welfare eligibility based on “income, resources, and assets” at least quarterly and “identify on a monthly basis any program participants who have died, moved out of state, or have been incarcerated longer than 90 days.” SB 607 is patterned after a law Illinois adopted that, once implemented, has removed 120,000 people thus far who should not have been on the welfare rolls.
Currently, DSS only determines eligibility annually. Thus someone could move to another state between eligibility checks and could continue receiving benefits for up to a year. As of 2014, Missouri had a large percentage of the adult population on welfare compared to other states, ranking twelfth in participation rates (see the chart above).
Supporters believe this measure could save taxpayers as much as $25 million by 2019. Maybe we should use the money we will save to experiment with successful welfare-to-work programs that other states have implemented.