Children won’t lose welfare if parents fail drug test

JACKSON — Mississippi children would not lose welfare if a parent’s benefits are cut off because of positive tests for illegal drugs, according to rules set by the state Department of Human Services.

The state’s welfare drug-testing law was supposed to take effect July 1, but it was delayed after advocates for low-income families said the agency originally proposed administrative rules that were harsher than the law itself.

The agency has revised its rules to line up with what legislators passed and the governor signed, and the law took effect Aug. 1. The updated rules specify children would not lose coverage by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families if a parent has an unfavorable drug test.

About 4,300 adults and 12,900 children in Mississippi received TANF benefits in May. The average monthly payment was $67.94 for an individual and $139.65 for a family, although the family size was not specified.

The new law says applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families must answer a questionnaire and then take a drug test if their answers suggest possible drug abuse. Those who test positive would undergo treatment before they could receive cash assistance. If a person tests positive for drugs after receiving treatment, the TANF assistance would end. Benefits also could be taken away from any adult applicant who fails to follow any requirement, such as showing up for drug testing.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said drug testing is designed to help people who are “trapped in a dependency lifestyle.”

Advocates for the poor say it’s not clear how someone with a very low income would pay for drug treatment. They say expenses might be covered by Medicaid for some people, but not all.

The Department of Human Services held a public hearing July 22 to collect people’s responses to the proposed administrative rules. The agency revised the rules after the Mississippi Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, raised concerns about the possibility of children in one of the poorest states in the nation losing welfare coverage. Some advocates also said poor people could be hurt by false positive drug tests.

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