This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The state of Missouri is planning to cut back on eligibility for food stamps, a move that swiftly prompted criticism from the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.
The proposed change would require that most able-bodied Missourians, aged 18-50 and without dependents, would receive food stamps only if “they are employed, seeking work or are enrolled in an education or training program,” according to a statement issued by the state’s Department of Social Services.
The department is part of Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration.
The requirement would end the waiver on work requirements allowed since the federal stimulus spending in 2009. The work requirement would continue to be waived in counties with unemployment rates above 10 percent.
The latest state figures indicate that only a handful of Missouri’s 115 counties, all rural, would still qualify for the waiver of the work requirement. The state’s unemployment rate overall is just over 7 percent.
Nixon's staff and the Department of Social Services declined to provide details on how many people would affected, how much the cutback would save in state or federal money, and why the decision was made
The department said in a release:
“This proposed rule would return the eligibility criteria for these adults without dependents back to the parameters put in place prior to the national recession and federal stimulus legislation of 2009. The current waiver was a temporary measure intended to lessen the impact of the national recession.”
The department justified its proposed cutback, saying that “the recession is over and the economy is growing.”
The proposal would need the approval of the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. If approved, it would go into effect next spring.
The Missouri Association for Social Welfare said the change would make Missouri “one of only six states to reject available federal benefits, which currently bring millions of dollars to Missouri grocers and their surrounding communities, while also alleviating hunger.”
The group added, “For the past 12 years, with both Democratic and Republican governors, Missouri has consistently sought to protect jobless Missourians from hunger, applying for the broadest exemption possible from application of the very harsh food stamp time limit provisions in the 1996 welfare reform law.”
The group also disputed the department’s assertion that “the recession is over.”
“The Missouri State Hunger Atlas (2013) shows that Missouri has not yet recovered from recession, as food insufficiency surged to 16.7 percent, surpassing the national average of 14 percent,” the group said. “Currently, 1.3 million Missourians don’t have enough to eat, causing Missouri to rank in the top 10 of food insecure states.“
MASW added that it “will partner with other not-for-profits, families, and individuals to combat this latest assault on neighborhood stability.”