If most Missourians receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are required to take part in work-related activities, but fewer than 20 percent actually do so, do we have a problem? The provisions of recently passed SB 607—a measure to stop payments to those no longer eligible for benefits due to death, moving out of state, or incarceration—are a necessary step toward welfare reform, but what about those receiving benefits while not meeting the work requirements?
“Work-related activities” include both paid employment and things like job training and public-service work. The chart below shows participation rates among TANF recipients, and Missouri is dead last in the nation at 17%. (For clarity, the chart shows only 18 states, but the participation rates of all the omitted states fall between Missouri and Idaho.)
Idaho has the highest participation rate (87.9%). Why is Idaho’s rate over four times higher than Missouri’s? Part of the reason might be in how the two states explain the eligibility requirements to recipients. Missouri and Idaho each have websites set up for this purpose. Idaho’s website provides a clear list of acceptable work activities:
- Unsubsidized employment
- Subsidized private sector employment
- Subsidized public sector employment
- Job search and job readiness (limited to not more than 6 weeks in a federal fiscal year with not more than 4 weeks consecutive).
- Community service
- Work experience
- On-the-job training
- Vocational educational training (limited to 12 months for an individual)
- Caring for a child of a recipient in community service Supplemental Activities
- Job skills training directly related to employment
- Education directly related to employment (for those without a high school or equivalent degree)
- Completion of a secondary school program
Missouri has only an explanation of how many hours per month that an aid recipient needs to devote to work-related activity but no information about what that activity entails:
- The required average employment and training activities for a federal month for a single-parent household are:
- 20 hours if the children are under age 6
- 30 hours if the children are over age 6
- The required average employment and training activities for a federal month for a two-parent household are:
- 35 hours if the children are under age 6 and the household is not receiving federally funded childcare on the household members, and
- 55 hours for all other recipients
There is a link to the Missouri Work Assistance Program website, but even that site lacks specifics about what is expected of aid recipients.
When recipients in Missouri don’t engage in required work activities, benefits are supposed to be halved and then stopped. This rule should be enforced for people who aren’t making any effort, but our real goal is to stop paying benefits to people because they have jobs and can support themselves without government aid. Clear guidelines about required work-related activities for aid recipients might help—they seem to be working in Idaho.