Coming off the heels of the Great Recession, the outlook in Missouri was admittedly bleak. In 2010, the state’s unemployment rate sat at nearly 10 percent. But by 2015, the economy had picked up and regained steam. The unemployment rate had been cut in half to 4.4 percent, the lowest point in nearly 15 years. More than 2.9 million workers were on the job, a record high. And employers were desperately trying to fill more than 100,000 open jobs statewide. But despite all signs pointing to an economic comeback, welfare dependency in Missouri was still growing.
Food stamp enrollment continued to soar, with nearly 855,000 Missourians receiving food stamp benefits in 2015— with 15 percent more people on the program than even during the Great Recession. Staggeringly, one in six Missouri households found themselves dependent on food stamps. One of the biggest drivers of this growth: able-bodied adults.
Missouri’s dependency crisis, even in the midst of an economic turnaround, was driven by bad welfare policy that allowed able-bodied adults to languish indefinitely.
While then-Gov. Nixon was content with the status quo— able-bodied adults siphoning away resources from the truly needy while refusing to work—the Missouri Legislature recognized a big change was desperately needed. In 2015, lawmakers passed a number of significant reforms to the state’s welfare system, including legislation that eliminated the state’s waiver and reinstated work requirements. Missouri Governor Mike Parson—then a state senator— was a major champion for these commonsense reforms, helping override then-Gov. Nixon’s veto and ensuring work requirements would indeed return to Missouri.