Welfare reform bill passes through House

A bill designed to cut welfare fraud passed through the Missouri House of Representatives on Thursday.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, will allow the Department of Social Services to contract with a third party vendor and establish a eligibility verification system.

"This is an attempt at bending the curve of reining in welfare costs," Haefner told reporters. "We'll make sure that the people who get welfare are actually eligible to receive it."

Last session, lawmakers approved a budget bill that appropriated funds for the department to hire a vendor, and it is currently in search of one. The 2015 legislation had similar language as Haefner's current bill, but it expires at the end of June. The social services department is on board with the verification system, Haefner said, adding she's received "no pushback."

Haefner said other states have enacted their own verification system and saved millions of dollars. It could save both state and federal dollars, she added.

"It matters," Haefner said. "It's all taxpayer money."

The bill does not change eligibility standards, which are federally mandated, or how individuals qualify for certain services. The verification system will notify the department if applicants don't meet the qualifications, Haefner said, allowing the department's employees to spend more time on their cases.

Haefner said the legislation is a part of the welfare reform effort.

"We want to spend money on the right people for the right reasons, rather than those who don't have the need," she said.

A third-party verification system, Haefner said, will more quickly catch those on the system who become ineligible due to death, incarceration or moving to another state.