JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed Republican legislation Thursday that would drop thousands of low-income families from Missouri's welfare rolls by paring back benefits to what he said would be one of the shortest time periods in the nation.
But Nixon's veto may be only a last-grasp attempt to stop the tougher restrictions. Republicans, who hold overwhelming legislative majorities, said they expect to get the two-thirds vote needed in each chamber to override his veto.
Missouri's legislation would reduce the lifetime limit for receiving benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years — which is the national norm — to three years and nine months, starting Jan. 1. Nixon said just eight states have shorter lifetime limits.
"When it comes to adults, we can all agree on the need for personal responsibility," Nixon said in a prepared statement accompanying the veto. But, he added, "I don't sign bills that hurt kids — period."
Missouri's proposed welfare limits are part of a movement by Republicans in various states to scale back the social safety net in a manner that they contend will promote personal responsibility. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, for example, recently signed a law barring people from spending TANF benefits on concerts, lingerie, psychics and numerous other things.
Nixon announced the veto in the lobby of Operation Breakthrough, a Kansas City nonprofit that provides child care to families living in poverty.
Republicans say the cutbacks could spur parents to become self-sufficient while saving the state millions of dollars that could be redirected to other programs, such as child-care subsidies for low-income families.
Legislators passed the bill by a greater-than-two-thirds margin two weeks ago. Sponsoring Sen. David Sater said Thursday he's confident they will override the veto before the session ends May 15.
The legislation "is all about the principles our country was founded upon, hard work and personal responsibility," said Sater, a Republican from Cassville.
Republican Rep. Diane Franklin of Camdenton, who handled the bill in the House, added: "These are all common sense reforms."
The Department of Social Services estimates 3,155 families would lose benefits when the shorter time limit kicks in. Nixon said that translates to about 6,400 children, including more than 2,600 younger than age 5.
The legislation also would set up an intervention system if parents don't follow work or education requirements. State case workers would have to meet face-to-face with people not complying and give then an additional six weeks to do so. If people still don't meet work requirements, their families' benefits would be cut in half — and they'd have an additional 10 weeks to come into compliance or be kicked off the program.
The Social Services Department estimates more than 6,600 families could lose benefits for violating requirements to work, which can also be fulfilled by volunteering or taking job-training classes.
Nixon said legislators should have spared children and cut only the parents' portion of the benefits. Instead, the bill "punishes children for the behavior of their parents," Nixon said.
Missouri had 28,658 families receiving TANF benefits in March, according to the most recent department figures. To be eligible, a family of three can earn no more than $292 a month. The TANF payments average $228 a month, Nixon said.
The Missouri bill also would end the state's waiver from federal work requirements for some able-bodied adults receiving food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
It would require 2 percent of Missouri's federal TANF money to go toward alternatives-to-abortion services and an additional 2 percent to "healthy marriage promotion" and "responsible fatherhood" programs.
Associated Press writers Marie French in Jefferson City and Bill Draper in Kansas City contributed to this report.
Welfare bill is SB24