Bipartisan bill would help parents keep state child care assistance when receiving pay raises

Bipartisan legislation in the Missouri House seeks to help families stave off what’s called the “cliff effect,” with child care.

Representatives Cryscal Quade (left) and Dan Shaul decided to work together, across party lines, on a bill to help working parents keep needed child care subsidies when they earn a pay increase, while the two were on the state tour for freshmen legislators. (Photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)
Representatives Cryscal Quade (left) and Dan Shaul decided to work together, across party lines, on a bill to help working parents keep needed child care subsidies when they earn a pay increase, while the two were on the state tour for freshmen legislators. (Photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

The “cliff effect” refers to a person receiving a pay increase that puts him or her over the income limit for receiving a state benefit.

“Basically it came down to this.  You make so much money and all of a sudden you fall off the cliff.  You get one more pay raise and you get no more day care subsidy,” said Representative Dan Shaul (R-Imperial).  “We found that to be counterproductive to trying to hand up.  All of a sudden, what’s the motivation to continue on?”

Shaul, whose wife is a social worker, and Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), who herself is a social worker, are sponsoring identical legislation that would launch a pilot program in Green, Jefferson, and Pemiscot Counties.  It would allow individuals to participate in an existing transitional program.

That program offers tiered levels of childcare subsidies based on the individual’s income level, but requires participants to start at its lowest income level.  Under Quade and Shaul’s bills, a participant could enter the program at his or her current income level, rather than have to take a lesser-paying job.

Quade said the program would keep working parents from having to make tough choices about whether to accept better pay, or to decline it because it would not offset the cost of losing government assistance.

“It’s my belief that if we allow this to happen we will be essentially having more folks enter the workforce at a higher paying rate, eventually getting off of the state subsidies at every level if we’re allowing them to become productive members of society by not having to make those hard choices,” said Quade.

The House Committee on Children and Families held a hearing on those bills, House Bill 712 (Shaul) and House Bill 713 (Quade).  They heard testimony from several Missourians including Leann Seipel of Sparta, who told representatives she had to turn down a 15-cents per hour raise to avoid losing her child care subsidy.  She still lost the subsidy for one month.

“It cost me more than half of what I bring home in a month to provide child care for my children,” said Seipel.  “We ate a lot of Cheerios and ramen noodles that month, and it took me four months to pay off that debt for one month of child care.”

“It’s a very scary thing when you’re sitting there and you’re trying to do the math and trying to figure out, if I take this raise or if I take this new job am I going to lose my child care subsidy or food stamps or something,” said Seipel.  “When you’re living so close to the line, every little bit … it was a 15-cent raise.  15-cent raise killed us that month.”

Meghan Roetto of Republic moved from Montana to Missouri after her husband returned from serving in Iraq and left her and her daughter.

She told lawmakers she was frustrated when after going to college and getting a bachelor’s degree, she was offered a $10 an hour job, and that meant she would not be eligible for child care assistance.

“I felt punished for getting a degree and doing better, and being able to give to the workforce,” said Roetto.  “I chose to move from the nice home I lived in which did not have expensive rent – it was a wonderful neighborhood – to a smaller apartment that didn’t have as nice of a neighborhood – it was not as safe – so that I could continue to work.  I felt that I could move myself forward better.”

Shaul said he and Quade decided to work together on the issue after discussing it, “somewhere between Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and Rolla,” during the tour for freshmen legislators, held between the November election and before the start of session.

“It was a good trip.  We talked about kids, and parents trying to raise kids, and how we could help them with the child day care subsidy,” said Shaul.

The committee has not voted on those bills.

Republicans move quickly to give state final say on minimum wage

House Republicans are fast-tracking bills meant to assert that only the state can set a minimum wage, while Democrats say the bills are a rushed effort that goes back on a promise legislators made two years ago to the people of St. Louis.

The state Supreme Court last week threw out 1998 language that prevented local governments from setting a minimum wage exceeding that set by the state.  In response, Representatives Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) and Jason Chipman (R-Steelville) introduced on March 1 House Bills 1193 and 1194, respectively, both of which would bar political subdivisions from requiring a minimum wage exceeding that of the state.

“What I’m trying to do is ensure that a community doesn’t become fragmented and businesses don’t continue to move out of the State of Missouri or the City of St. Louis due to fragmentation,” said Shaul, who said having the minimum wage vary in different parts of the state would hurt businesses and cause confusion.

“The state minimum wage is called ‘the state minimum wage’ because it is the state minimum wage,” said Shaul.

Gladstone Democrat Jon Carpenter said the bills ask the legislature to reverse a decision it made two years ago.

House Bill 722, passed in 2015, also had language barring the setting of a higher minimum wage by local governments.  It included a “grandfather clause,” allowing previous wage agreements between private vendors and the City of St. Louis to stand if they were enacted prior to August 28 of that year.

St. Louis enacted an ordinance on August 28, 2015, increasing its minimum wage first to $10 per hour this year and then to $11 per hour next year.  Lawsuits delayed implementation of that ordinance, which is now set to take effect later this month.

Carpenter said lawmakers in 2015 agreed the grandfather clause would also allow to stand the new St. Louis minimum wage ordinance, and argued that pending pay hike is why the bills are being moved so quickly.  Normally legislation goes through two committees before reaching the floor for debate, but these will go through only one.  They also include “emergency clauses,” which would make them effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.

“The reason for not waiting is so that we can pass the bill before people get their raises,” said Carpenter.  “If we do nothing, in a few weeks people in St. Louis are going to get a raise.  It’s the only reason to pass the bill this week.  It’s the only reason to attach an emergency clause to the bill.”

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay (D), who traveled to the Capitol to testify against the bills, called it “unbelievable,” that the proposals were offered.

“This legislative body just two years ago gave St. Louis the okay to raise the minimum wage.  Something happened in between.  There was a lawsuit that, of course, we won, and within a couple of days a bill is introduced in this board and it’s on the fast track,” said Slay.

Republicans acknowledge the bill is being fast-tracked, but say that is to protect businesses from disruption.

“I think you have to ask the business owners are they prepared to have their labor costs increase overnight without adding value to what they’re producing,” said Chipman.  “That’s a hard thing for a business to do, especially if you’re a business that’s wondering about, ‘Should I renew my lease in my building because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to afford the cost increase of labor?  Am I going to have to inflate my prices and then watch my competitors, who may be bigger than I am, not have to do it, and then I lose market share and they gain market share, then I end up having to lay people off?’”

The House Committee on Rules – Administrative Oversight heard, too, from some St. Louis restaurant owners who said the minimum wage hike would force them to chair their business models and let go of some staff, as well as from some St. Louis workers who said they struggle to survive on their current salaries and said the wage increase is needed for many people to pay for basic needs.

The committee, after more than three hours of testimony and debate, voted 10-4 along party lines to advance the bills.