Public, lawmakers express concerns about TANF drug testing law - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Public, lawmakers express concerns about TANF drug testing law

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Many who attended the hearing expressed concerns that they've had since the legislative session. Source: WLBT Many who attended the hearing expressed concerns that they've had since the legislative session. Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Mississippians got a chance to express their concerns about the law requiring some welfare applicants to be drug tested.

The law was supposed to be implemented on July 1, but was delayed after advocacy groups worried how the new law might negatively affect poor families.

On Tuesday, a public hearing was held by the Mississippi Department of Human Services about the controversial TANF drug testing law.

The law states that applicants for TANF will have to answer a questionnaire and if the answers show the possibility of substance abuse, the person must take a drug test. If the person fails the drug test, they will have to undergo treatment to receive assistance. If the applicant fails a drug test after receiving treatment, they will no longer get help.

Many who attended the hearing expressed concerns that they've had since the legislative session.

According to American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi executive director Jennifer Riley-Collins, even basic questions were left unanswered with this issue.

"The law says you have to enroll in this drug treatment however the rules do not say who pays for the drug treatment," said Riley-Collins.

The ACLU is also apprehensive about the impact this law could have on children.

A childcare provider at the hearing addressed the crowd, saying the TANF law is a waste of money and that she believes children are the ones who will suffer under this.

Rep. Sherra Lane told those in attendance that she's skeptical about the 2 month treatment rule. She says that it defies the logic that the law would provide a cure for drug problems.

The ACLU asked that the Department of Human Services to delay any testing until a different method can be figured out.

Senator Willie Simmons said that the law is cruel and there's not research that shows TANF recipients are more likely to use drugs.

"The law is discriminatory and we think that it's unconstitutional, as well," Simmons explained Tuesday. "Because what it does, it carves out only a certain segment of Mississippians and subject them to the actual drug testing."

He was followed by Senator Sollie Norwood who thinks that the drug testing law is a "bad law". His recommendation is to hold it off until ample research is done.

Welfare or TANF dollars are meant to help needy families pay to raise their kids.

Now, those families feel like the assistance is in jeopardy. Cleveland resident Eva Woodall knows how much each little bit can help.

"If we don't have that TANF that impacts a lot of things in our personal life that we'll be able to care for our children day to day," said Woodall.

Woodall spoke at Tuesday's public hearing to give her feedback on the law. It links welfare dollars to drug testing for new applicants. She's never done drugs. But it's the chance of a false positive drug test that she worries could hurt folks that never did anything wrong.

A public records request by the ACLU revealed that Medicaid is supposed to pay. They say the problem is that not every welfare applicant is enrolled in Medicaid.

Some legislators want to rework the law before DHS implements it. Recipients agree.

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