MDHS postpones implementation of new TANF law; awaits hearing

state capitolJACKSON — The Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) has agreed to a request to delay the implementation of House Bill 49, a law that would require TANF applicants to complete a questionnaire and possibly be drug tested, until the end of a public hearing comment period.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU of MS) and the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ) made the request on June 20 citing the Mississippi Administrative Procedure Law that states an agency is not permitted to adopt the 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.”

ACLU, ACLU of MS and MCJ identified legal and practical problems with the proposed rules and regulations related to the enactment of H.B. 49. The concern arises from the uncertainty of who will shoulder the costs of the screening as well as the treatment, the effect on households and children when individual TANF recipients fail to comply with the screening requirements and the privacy worries in the non-disclosure policy, among others.

Beth Orlansky, advocacy director for the MCJ, said HB 49 “is a prime example of what happens when we put action before due diligence.”

“The bill was rushed through to approval with little thought given to how it would affect the lives of those who fall under its authority,” Orlansky said. “This puts some of the most vulnerable children in our state at even greater risk. The state simply is not ready for the realities of this bill.”

The law was initially scheduled to go into effect July 1. It will be delayed due to a scheduled public hearing July 22 from 9 a.m. until noon at the Hinds County Extension Office in Jackson. The hearing, which is open to the public, will include commentary from TANF recipients, legislators and representatives from multiple advocacy organizations.

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