By JORDAN SHAPIRO
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Missouri House committee is scheduled to begin an investigation next week into a state contract designed to move people off of state welfare programs and onto federal disability payments.
The House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee scheduled a hearing Monday on the state's contract with the Boston-based Public Consulting Group. Committee Chairman Rep. Jay Barnes said the state pays Public Consulting Group $2,300 for every family moved from welfare to disability payments.
Emails and phone calls to Public Consulting Group were not returned, but the company's website said it helps move eligible people from welfare programs to disability payments to improve a state's financial condition.
Shifting people could save Missouri money because the federal government pays the entire cost of disability payments, while it pays only a portion of the state's welfare program. House Republicans are concerned that even though the state could save money by moving people to disability payments, it still costs taxpayers in the long run.
In the current fiscal year, Missouri is expected to pay $8.5 million for its welfare program, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The federal government pays most of the cost for that program and is projected to pay $120 million for the current year. That program provides cash assistance for low-income families provided a person fulfills the program's work requirements. Recipients must be actively looking for a job or in training within two years of receiving cash assistance.
Federal disability payments, known as Supplemental Security Income, provide similar monthly cash assistance to elderly, blind, or disabled individuals. It doesn't have a work requirement and the state does not directly pay money toward the program's cost.
The federal disability payments have ballooned in recent years and are projected to continue growing. A 2012 report from the Social Security Administration shows that 200,000 more people received payments in 2012 than in 2011. The report also predicts that by 2036 more than 10 million people will be on disability payments.
"We are committed to ensuring that Missourians with disabilities are served through the appropriate program," said Rebecca Woelfel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services in an email seeking comment on the state's contract.
But Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said saving the state money doesn't justify moving people from welfare to disability payments.
"(Receiving disability payments) could trap them in a situation where they live just above the poverty level for the rest of their lives," he said.
Barnes added he hopes to learn more about the contract at the committee hearing and figure out the long-term effects of moving people onto disability payments.
The Missouri Accountability Portal, a government website that tracks state spending, shows Missouri has two contracts with Public Consulting Group. Both are listed as contracts for "professional services" and are worth about $650,000 combined.