JEFFERSON CITY — Child care subsidies and tightening regulations around eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were the main priorities Wednesday as the Missouri Senate Seniors, Families, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee met to hear two bills.

Senate Bill 138 would put food stamp recipients at risk of losing their benefits if they cannot prove 20 hours a week of work, job training or volunteering.

“The only way we’re going to get people off these programs is to ensure that they’re able to get back to work,” state Sen. Rick Brattin, the bill’s sponsor, said.

There are exemptions for people who are unable to work because of a disability. Any non-exempt person who cannot meet the requirements can be disqualified on a “three-strike” basis. If someone were to receive a third strike, they would be permanently disqualified from the program.

Unless permanently disqualified, those who start meeting the new qualifications would be able to resume the program. Further, if the family member preventing the household from qualifying leaves, the family would again be eligible.

It is identical to other bills for the 2021 legislative session. Historically, toughening requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, have passed in the state House of Representatives only to die when moved to the Senate, where there is less support for the measure.

The chairperson of the committee, Sen. Bill White, R-Dade, said his concern was that the bill violated federal law, which only allows for someone to be disqualified for up to 180 days.

“I don’t want to hurt kids because we got a crummy parent out there,” White said.

Tensions rose when state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, called the bill “cruel.” Schupp said, according to the Department of Social Services and last year’s fiscal notice, 45,236 children are living in households that would have to comply with these eligibility requirements.

“For us to be a cruel government that literally takes away food from our kids and hopes that a food pantry or a church is going to make up the difference. ... I think it’s cruel,” Schupp said.

The sponsor of the bill, Brattin, contested that the bill was not cruel.

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Bollinger, spoke about her own experience with federal assistance to express her support of the bill.

“I’ve watched our government system, all because of compassion, completely steal the potential of so many women in my family,” Rehder said.

One witness spoke in favor of the bill, while five spoke against it.

One witness, Emily Van Schenkhof, executive director of the Missouri Children’s Trust Fund, opposes the bill and said she’s seen firsthand the effects of parents who are unable to put food on the table.

“I really believe that who would suffer the most from this bill would be our children — our state’s littlest and most precious citizens,” Van Schenkhof said.

The other bill heard by the committee was Senate Bill 206, which would sign into law Gov. Mike Parson’s 2020 executive order that allows some caretakers who are not below the poverty line to be eligible for child care benefits.

That executive order currently extends through 2021.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Clay, families are eligible for full subsidy benefits if they are at 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. As they earn more money, they lose some of those benefits.

“Under this bill, parents would be become eligible for transitional benefits without having to start at the bottom rung,” Arthur said.

Caitlin Whaley, of the Missouri Department of Social Services, said Parson was supportive of putting the executive order into law.

However, she added that the program saw a decline in enrollment during 2020. Five witnesses spoke in favor of the bill.

  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

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