A Missouri lawmaker is looking to cut some red tape surrounding state safety net programs by saving a few trees.
Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, filed a bill earlier this year requiring the state to make applications for government benefits — which often run dozens of pages long — down to a single sheet available online.
Coleman told a House committee Wednesday the idea is to make sure anyone who qualifies for benefits isn’t undone by over-complicated paperwork.
“It's really important that anybody who's entitled to benefits receives them,” she said.
Coleman said she wrote the bill after trying and failing to complete an application for food stamps herself as part of an advocacy challenge this summer.
“I attempted to find the form online twice and abandoned the effort,” she said. “I made a phone call, I started the application and about 17 pages in, I abandoned the effort.”
Federal mandates will likely make one-page applications for programs like food stamps and Medicaid impractical, but Coleman said progress could still be made with new language simply requiring forms to be as concise as possible.
“We can do a heck of a lot better and reduce redundancies,” she said in an interview Friday.
Coleman said an official told her he thinks Medicaid applications could be cut to fewer than 10 pages, for example.
Rep. Jeff Shawan, R-Poplar Bluff, said he loves the plan.
“It needs to be done, for crying out loud,” he said. “We spend hours, I think, debating quite heavily about (social welfare programs), and then yet we have an incomprehensible system of application.”
The committee’s most vocal Democrat also applauded the plan.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, told Coleman he’s happy to see an “actual action step” to address recent problems, like the removal of more than 100,000 children from the state’s Medicaid program in the past two years.
The decline in enrollment, which Democrats consider a crisis, gained renewed attention this month after the News-Leader published comments by a key Republican saying thousands of children removed from the rolls were likely eligible for benefits.
Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, blamed much of that contradiction on children’s parents simply failing to refile paperwork to get their kids back on the rolls.
But he also said doing that paperwork is “horrendous” and that the state could do a better job helping people work through it.
In an interview Friday, Wood said he liked Coleman’s idea and looked forward to working through the details to make sure things work on the ground.
“Right now, the Medicaid applications are 63 pages with all those programs together, so we can definitely cut it down from 63,” Wood said.
Merideth, on the other hand, was also skeptical in an interview Friday.
He agreed with Wood that paperwork issues contributed to the recent decline in Medicaid enrollment and appreciated Coleman’s sentiment.
“The forms are overly bureaucratic and hard to do,” he said. “I don’t know if the bill actually helps, but the concept helps.”
But he also noted that the Department of Social Services, which did not testify for or against Coleman’s bill, is already working with a nonprofit to simplify its Medicaid paperwork. He said that made him worry Republicans are using Coleman’s bill as a way to claim they did something about problems they refused to investigate without creating real change.
“This allows them to say, ‘We did something,’” he said. “But I’ll still vote for it.”
The committee did not immediately vote on Coleman’s legislation last week, which is what normally happens when a bill comes before a committee for the first time.
The legislation is House Bill 1960.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.