The Missouri House has given initial approval to a bill that would dramatically increase penalties for misusing money intended to help the poor.

The measure, approved Monday, would create a three-strikes policy for anyone using the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The proposal would kick people off the program for three months the first time they spent money on a prohibited item or business, such as cigarettes or a liquor store. The second infraction would result in a six-month disqualification, and the third would bring a five-year ban.

Proponents said the penalties would encourage accountability and weed out fraud. Opponents said it could hurt vulnerable families who might unwittingly violate the rules.

The bill needs to be voted on again before it heads to the Senate.

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