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MO House Approves Additional Restrictions and Penalties For Abusing Welfare

The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill that would make major changes to welfare benefits. Republican Representative Hannah Kelly of Mountain Grove successfully sponsored an amendment to ban welfare access to people who make prohibited purchases, such as cigarettes, and for five years if they do so a third time. She says it’s important to make the best use of tax dollars for those in need.

“All of us have folks in dire need all across our districts across the state of Missouri. We need to make sure we’re prioritizing our funds for the folks who truly need it, while bringing accountability to the folks who are trying to work the system.”

Some Democrats complain that the punishment for a third offense would be overly harsh, noting that a five-year ban would be greater than the current lifetime eligibility for the benefits of 45 months. Currently, those who misuse welfare funds are only required to pay back the equivalent of the disallowed purchases.

Among other things, the measure would prohibit recipients from cashing out benefits at an ATM. Democrat Crystal Quade of Springfield says the ban prevents people from accessing important services at cash-only businesses.

“We fight every year in this body about how we’re going to spend money. And you’re trying to take money away from people at the ATM for vital services, potentially, if they need it for the laundromat, and then taking money away from all these great services that we fight for.”

The measure more clearly identifies items prohibited from purchase and businesses where welfare purchases cannot be made. Pornography has been added to the list of items that are prohibited from being purchased with TANF or SNAP benefits using an EBT card. Democrat Bruce Franks of St. Louis said the ban on liquor stores raises problems in his district where there are no traditional grocery stores.

“If we have this particular area where we don’t know what a liquor store is defined as, and these are the only places that folks in my community and other communities have to go, and they’re on this prohibited list, that’s a problem in itself.”

The bill needs one more vote before it can move to the Senate.

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