Law allowing drug tests tied to welfare delayed

Clarion Ledger

Jimmie E. Gates
The Mississippi Department of Human Services agreed to a request to delay the law that would require Temporary Assistance to Needy Families applicants to complete a questionnaire and possibly be drug tested, until the end of a public hearing and comment period.

Under the law, anyone who applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will have to answer a questionnaire. If the answers indicate the possibility of substance abuse, the person will have to take a drug test. Anyone testing positive would have to receive treatment to receive cash assistance.

If the person tests positive for drugs after receiving treatment, the assistance would end.

State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, argued against the law, saying it would punish the poor. Support for the measure was divided along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposed.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice made the request to delay the law, citing the Mississippi Administrative Procedures Law, which states an agency is not permitted to adopt a law “until the period for making written submissions and oral presentations has expired.”

“We have taken the position that all provisions within this new law must be well defined. If not, the economic harm and family sanctions would be exponential, and the livelihood of TANF recipients would be left to chance,” said Charles Irvin, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “The public has the right to engage in the functions of government in order to create a more perfect union and any opportunity to ease the burden on our most at risk citizens must be advanced.”

The public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. until noon July 22 at the Hinds County Extension office at 1735 Wilson Blvd. in Jackson. The hearing, which is open to the public, will include commentary from TANF recipients, legislators and representatives from multiple advocacy organizations.