Our Opinion: Integrity is better than incentives

News Tribune editorial

Which is better?

That is the question posed to groups of youngsters in a popular ad campaign for a communications company.

It also is a question being investigated by members of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

The state — specifically the Department of Social Services — pays Public Consulting Group, a Boston-based firm, $2,300 for every Missourian moved from a Missouri welfare program to a federal disability program.

Which program is better?

The answer: It depends.

It depends on whether you are unemployed, disabled, a Missouri taxpayer, a federal taxpayer, state government, the federal government, or some combination of the above.

Missouri’s welfare program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, helps low-income people who actively seek work or are receiving job training. The assistance is available for a maximum of five years. Welfare recipients are eligible for the state’s Medicaid program; the state pays about 40 percent of the cost.

Federal disability payments are an operation of the Social Security Administration. The payments have no work requirements, no time limits and are financed entirely by the federal Medicare program.

Regarding eligibility for assistance, it is better for unemployed people who can work to seek work, and for disabled people to receive disability.

Regarding taxation, Missouri taxpayers also are federal taxpayers. Therefore, the case can be made that it is better to finance benefits with temporary state taxation than to shift to permanent federal taxation.

For governments, it is less costly for state government when people are deemed disabled and transferred to federal assistance.

The state’s procedure provides an incentive for a private contractor to transfer people from welfare to disability, which also transfers costs from the state to federal government.

State lawmakers are investigating whether a better procedure can be found.

We share legislators’ concerns about a procedure that provides a financial incentive to move people who can work to disability rolls.

The Department of Social Services announced Wednesday it also is on board and will narrow its specifications so only people with disabilities are transferred from the state welfare program.

Tightening the rules helps allay the public perception that government is helping able-bodied people become welfare cheats.

That perception causes justifiable resentment and resistance among taxpayers and, ultimately, hurts people who honestly need welfare or disability assistance.

The best procedure — for people in need of assistance, taxpayers and governments — is one based on integrity.

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