Research & Commentary: Missouri Welfare Reform

Published February 24, 2015

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, implemented in 1996, granted states the flexibility needed to reform their welfare systems. In Missouri, state Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) has proposed a welfare reform bill reducing welfare dependency and rewarding work by strengthening welfare work requirements and removing barriers to self-sufficiency.

Proponents of the current welfare system argue many people in poverty need aid from the state, but reformers understand the system requires taxpayers to pick up the bill for failed programs that can destroy opportunities for impoverished citizens.

In an upcoming Heartland Institute report card, Missouri receives an F grade and ranks 50th for its anti-poverty policies. According to a 2013 report from the Cato Institute, only 17 percent of Missouri welfare recipients were engaged in “work activities,” a broad definition including not only actual work but also attending college, job training, and job-search activities. Since 2013, this rate has fallen to 14.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Strengthening the sanctions regime for failure to participate in work activities and requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) aid recipients to begin work immediately upon receiving benefits would likely cause a substantial increase in work participation in Missouri. That participation would make it more likely recipients would gain the necessary skills to earn an income sufficient for them to leave welfare rolls permanently.

Missouri has failed to follow the lead of 33 other states that have adopted a cash diversion program that allows case workers to make grants to people who need short-term assistance rather than requiring full enrollment in TANF and needlessly creating more dependency.

Missouri maintains the highest recommended limit of lifetime eligibility for individuals and families, 60 months, under the 1996 welfare reform law. In recent years, many states have adopted policies limiting access to certain welfare programs to less than 60 months, because five years of dependence on welfare can ingrain habits and lifestyles that make it very difficult to achieve self-sufficiency.

Other states have also increased the integration of welfare and state social services by co-locating service providers, which helps government bureaucracies share information and gives caseworkers more flexibility to direct their clients to the services they need.

Missouri’s current set of welfare and anti-poverty programs disincentivizes work, trapping welfare recipients in long-term poverty. Legislators should reform Missouri’s welfare system by adopting policies that improve opportunities for upward mobility and self-sufficiency.

The following documents provide additional information about welfare reform.

Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis
In 2008, The Heartland Institute published Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, which reports the welfare policy choices of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report ranks the states by how aggressively they implemented effective policies. This data provide policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts.

Testimony to the Missouri Seniors, Families, and Children Committee on Welfare Reform 
On January 20, 2015, Heartland Institute Government Relations Manager Logan Pike testified before the Missouri House Committee on Seniors, Families, and Children, in favor of reforming the state’s fragmented welfare system.

Testimony to the Missouri Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee 
Cato Institute Senior Fellow Michael D. Tanner testifies before the Missouri Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee on welfare reform.

The Work Versus Welfare Tradeoff: 2013 
The Cato Institute estimates the value of the full package of welfare benefits available to a typical recipient in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It found welfare benefits outpace the income most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the income gap between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years.

Comparing Program Participation of TANF and Non-TANF Families Before and During a Time of Recession
Shelley K. Irving examines whether participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has increased and whether employment has decreased during the current economic recession. The study also compares participation in other assistance programs based on welfare and poverty status before and during the economic recession.

Welfare Rules Database 
The Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database website provides a “comprehensive, sophisticated resource for comparing cash assistance programs between states” and allows researchers to examine changes in cash assistance rules between states.

Implementing Welfare Reform: A State Report Card
Writing for the Cato Institute in 2004, Jenifer Zeigler analyzes state welfare reform implementation and identifies reform policies that were most effective at encouraging personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Budget & Tax News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database at

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Logan Pike, Heartland’s state government relations manager, at[email protected] or 312/377-4000.