Public hearing on welfare drug testing law being held Tuesday

Clarion Ledger

Jimmie E. Gates

Citizens are urged to share their opinion Tuesday at a public hearing dealing with the new state law that could lead to drug testing for some welfare applicants.

A public hearing dealing with the new state law that could lead to drug testing for some welfare applicants is set for Tuesday.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services is holding the hearing at the request of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice. The law was scheduled to go into effect July 1 but was delayed to allow for the hearing.

The hearing will be 9 a.m. to noon at the Hinds County Extension office at 1735 Wilson Blvd. in Jackson.

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 will end.

The ACLU and others say the law, as written, make it uncertain who will shoulder the costs of the screening as well as the drug treatment. It fails to address the negative impact on households and children when individual TANF recipients fail to comply with the screening requirements. The rules further do not provide privacy protections, they say.

“We hope that addressing the concerns in this misguided policy will help protect low-income Mississippians receiving these public benefits,” said Charles Irvin, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

The legislation was supported by Gov. Phil Bryant, who said TANF is a safety net for families in need and adds that the screening process will help adults trapped in a dependency lifestyle so they can better provide for their children.

The bill’s author, House Public Health and Human Services Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, said the goal of the law is to help people.

The state Department of Human Services website shows 4,347 adults and 12,914 children received TANF benefits in May, the most recent month available. The average monthly payment was $67.94 for an individual $139.65 for a family, although the family size was not specified.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.