Mississippi To Drug Test Welfare Patients, Kick Them Out After Two Failures

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

Mississippi’s state Senate passed a bill last week that requires drug testing for some welfare recipients as of July 1.

The measure cleared the House earlier this year and is awaiting Republican Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature.

The bill requires applicants to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to fill out a questionnaire designed to assess the likelihood of drug use. If the applicant is found to be a substance abuse risk they will be given a drug test.

A positive test result will require them to attend substance abuse treatment. If they test positive a second time, they will be removed from the TANF program for 90 days. A third positive drug test will suspend their benefits for up to a year.

Mississippi Democrats asked that the same premise be extended to business owners who receive public assistance in the form of tax breaks and corporate incentives.

The idea was hemmed and hawed by the Senate GOP.

Expected to sign the bill into law, Bryant says the measure “will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”

The testing will cost an estimated $36,000 a year, which will be paid for with federal TANF funds, according to ThinkProgress.

About 99 percent of TANF recipients say their cash benefits are worth less now than in 1996. The new testing program could starve those funds further.

“Most of the money spent would be used to treat drug abuse,” argued Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton. “If we can locate and identify substance abuse in any area, but certainly those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”

A similar bill in Florida was struck down after a judge found it unconstitutional, but that law applied to all TANF applicants. Mississippi plans to target only “at-risk” beneficiaries.

Sources: ThinkProgress, MSNBC