JACKSON — The Mississippi Department of Human Services is holding a public hearing today to gather comments about a new welfare drug-testing law.
The state law was supposed take effect July 1 but was delayed after advocacy groups chided the agency for not holding a forum about how the measure might affect the poor, particularly the children of those whose assistance might be cut. Such a public hearing is required by the state administrative procedures act.
The drug-testing law says applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families will have to answer a questionnaire. If the answers show the possibility of substance abuse, the person must take a drug test. Those testing positive would have to undergo treatment to receive cash assistance. Then, if the person tests positive for drugs after receiving treatment, the assistance would end.
“The TANF 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,” Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said when he signed House Bill 49 in March. “This measure will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”
Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the Mississippi Center for Justice, said in a statement yesterday that say the law could punish entire families in a state with the highest poverty rate in the nation.
“If H.B. 49 goes into full effect, children will go hungry because of the mistakes of adults,” Orlansky said. “This is completely unacceptable. Our leaders must take notice and change this law.”
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 chief sponsor of the Mississippi bill that became law was House Public Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb. He said the Mississippi plan is different from a Florida law that a federal judge declared unconstitutional because Florida made drug testing mandatory for all applicants without screening them with a questionnaire.