Mississippi welfare drug-testing bill about to be put to the test

Mississippi is the latest state to enact welfare drug-testing, but will it work, or is it just grandstanding?

“The TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] program is a safety net for families in need, and adding this screening process will aid adults who are trapped in a dependency lifestyle so they can better provide for their children,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said in a news release. “This measure will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”

Bryant passed the welfare drug-testing bill on Monday and the state will begin screening applicants on July 1. The bill requires the applicant to complete a questionnaire, take a drug screening, receive treatment for substance abuse if applicable, and test negative for future screenings. Without following these rules, the adult would not receive cash assistance through TANF and would be ineligible for the first 90 days after the occurrence, and 12 months after the second occurrence.

Capt. Ken Chapman, regional coordinator and corps officer for the Salvation Army in Jackson, Miss., said that around 51 percent of Mississippi’s population receive some form of government aid. If the people working outnumber the people receiving and out of work, the system will break down, he says.

“So I see this as a step forward in trying to get people more responsive and back in the productivity,” Chapman told The Daily Caller. “I think that’s the goal that the government is trying to achieve, and as a social service organization, we support that. It’s not about condemning people; it’s actually about tough love and giving people a hand up than a handout.”

States moving to welfare drug-testing bills to monitor drug use among welfare recipients are “not dealing with the real problems of the welfare system,” said Michael Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute who researches social welfare policy, Social Security and health-care reform.

“It’s not that we have a good welfare program that people are abusing, it’s that we have a bad welfare program,” Tanner said. “Is this a bad bill? No, but it’s really taking the easy way out. It’s not dealing with the real problems of the welfare system.”

States across the country are considering the welfare drug-testing bill, which if passed, would allow welfare programs to drug test individuals after completion of a questionnaire assessing substance abuse risk, provide two-month treatment, and disqualify people from the program after subsequent drug use.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services reported in their 2013 annual fiscal report that TANF’s average monthly payments to families is about $140 each, and to an individual is about $66. Statewide average monthly payments reached $1,460,034. The Department of Human Services handled 10,464 family cases monthly and 21,907 people’s cases monthly. The average claim collections through TANF were $25,777 out of the 363 claims established for “benefits improperly received.”

According to Mississippi Sen. Terry Burton, the bill will cost around $36,000 — but if every applicant is a substance abuser, it could cost as much as $291,000.