Republicans leveraged their large majorities in the Missouri Legislature to slash welfare and unemployment benefits this year in an effort they say will spur some people to find work and help businesses. But Democrats call the changes an “all-out attack” on the poor.
Despite strong resistance from Gov. Jay Nixon and his fellow Democrats, GOP lawmakers pushed through bills to scale back how long low-income families and unemployed residents can receive financial assistance. Republicans overrode Nixon’s veto of the welfare plan before the 2015 legislative session ended Friday, and they plan to do the same with the unemployment bill during September’s veto session.
“We have had the opportunity to see an all-out attack on the working poor, the poor as well as the middle class,” said Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis. “It’s unfortunate, but the Republicans were able to have their way.”
The Department of Social Services estimates that 3,155 families will lose access to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program when that provision of the new law takes effect in January. Nixon has said about 6,400 children — including more than 2,600 younger than age 5 — will be affected by the law, which caps benefits for the program at three years and nine months instead of the current five years.
“I think we’ve seen that the majority seems to have an agenda of cruelty toward poor people… toward children especially,” said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel of St. Louis.
Under the unemployment legislation, benefits would be available to jobless residents for 13 weeks — the shortest amount of time in the U.S. — instead of the current 20 weeks if the state’s unemployment rate dips below 6 percent. The March unemployment rate was 5.6 percent.
“We know that it takes time to remove barriers and get the skills necessary (to find adequate employment),” said Heather Lockard, executive director of the Missouri Association for Community Action, an advocacy group trying to fight poverty. “It takes three, four or sometimes five years to get them all the support that they need.”
When Nixon vetoed the measure last month, he said lawmakers failed to consider how long tough economic times can last.
(Excerpted from The Republic 5/18/15)