Since our founding in 1901 as the Missouri Conference on Charities and Corrections, Empower Missouri has been deeply concerned about the fate of women and children who live without the resources needed to be secure. In 1911, our founders worked to create a “Widow’s Pension” program in Jackson County that became a model for Aid for Dependent Children, a part of the Social Security Act. We have often taken action on public policy related to cash aid to those among us with the lowest incomes, most recently opposing the “welfare deform” in Senate Bill 24 in 2015 and stopping bills in the 2017-19 Legislative Sessions that would have banned access to cash from their EBT cards for families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Missouri’s TANF laws are still in need of significant reform. Benefit levels have not been raised since 1991, so the maximum monthly aid to a family of three in our state is $292. The eligibility guidelines are also outdated, and the strict and poorly designed work-activity-tracking required by Senate Bill 24’s implementation has caused a 60 percent decline in households served by the program since January 1, 2016.
In order to prepare to convene concerned citizens to address these public policy failures, Christine Woody (Empower Missouri’s Senior Policy and Advocacy Lead) and I attended three-days of peer learning and conference presentations in Washington, DC, October 21-23. The conference for TANF advocates was hosted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and was called “Breathing New Life into TANF: State Strategies to Create Opportunity, Build on Success.” We learned about successful campaigns to increase benefit levels, create child support pass throughs, add a diaper or toiletries allowance, or end a flawed policy like the “family cap” in some states. (Fortunately Missouri did not opt for this following the federal welfare changes in 1996.)
An important part of the conference was looking at history that has been hidden from too many of us around racial equity. Many states found ways to exclude Black, Latino and First Nations families from cash aid for decades, while providing assistance to White women. Sanctions data shows patterns of disproportionate punishment of Families of Color or of withholding information about resources (like subsidized child care or transportation assistance) from Women of Color. It is important that we use a racial equity lens in examining Missouri’s TANF policies as well.
Are you concerned about TANF and the quality of life for families living in deep poverty in Missouri? If so, please fill out this form so that we can invite you to conversations about what steps we might take in Missouri to achieve better outcomes for these neighbors who have so many needs. If you have friends who may be interested, be sure to send them this article and tell them to to sign up for our mailing list below, so they can get updates on the work we’re doing.Best,