A bill that would require Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients to undergo drug tests passed in the Mississippi House of Representatives 74-46 last month. The bill now moves to the Senate for debate.
House Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-District 97, sponsored the bill that would require TANF recipients and applicants to answer a questionnaire concerning potential drug use to determine whether or not testing is to be required.
If the results of the survey indicate drug use, the applicant would be required to participate in drug testing and outpatient treatment for two months in order to gain or keep TANF benefits. If the recipient fails a drug test after the two-month treatment, then the benefits would be discontinued.
According to the 2013 annual report for the Mississippi Department of Human Services, 0.1 percent of Lafayette County residents receive TANF benefits.
In the state as a whole, 0.67 percent of residents receive TANF benefits. In 2013 the MDHS received nearly 16,000 TANF applications, and 369 were approved.
TANF benefits are reported to have fed 14,706 Mississippi children in June 2013. As dependents, these children could potentially lose funding that helps to feed and clothe them.
Brad Lanier, senior international studies and Spanish double major, initially liked the idea of screening benefits recipients, but he questions the idea in application.
“The questionnaire process seems a little suspicious to me,” Lanier said. “Who decides which responses merit a drug test or not? Also, a two-month program may not be long enough to get some things out of your system.”
David Noble, the state operations director for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, TANF and child support programs of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, stated that his agency supported the measure and cooperated with Rep. Mims.
The respective offices of Noble and Mims researched available tools and other state policies of similar programs.
“We want people in the (TANF) program to grow to be self-sufficient, so screening for drug use and then testing is a way to remove barriers for people,” Noble said. “We can offer assistance to help them get job skills and become better parents.”
In order to qualify for TANF, an applicant must meet income eligibility requirements and have at least one dependent child, and that child must be deprived of at least one parent.
Noble admits the program could affect children. The bill does not specify what happens to the children of a family if the caretaker loses benefits due to drug test failure.
“Kids could be removed from their parents’ care, but that is not our purpose,” Noble said. “In order to remove them from the home, a complaint would have to be made to Child Services and then they would have to investigate.”
— Jessi Ballard