Missouri House to vote on drug testing for welfare recipients

Thursday, January 20, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A bill being considered by Missouri lawmakers would require drug testing for the state's federal welfare recipients, though critics of the measure argue that it doesn't provide a means for treatment for those with substance abuse problems.

The House will vote Wednesday on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston. The bill has cleared two House committees whose members voted along party lines, with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor.

"I believe the workers of this state do not want their tax dollars going to support someone's illegal drug habit," Brandom said.

The bill would require the Department of Social Services to develop a program to screen and test each work-eligible applicant or recipient who receives cash benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Any recipient or applicant could be tested if the department has "reasonable cause to believe" that they have illegally used a controlled substance.

After an administrative hearing by the department, a recipient who tests positive would lose that cash benefit for one year. The loss in benefits would only be for the recipient who tested positive for drugs, which would mean a reduction of $58 in the monthly benefit of $292 for a family of three, Brandom said. Other household members would continue receiving benefits, she said, with the money going to a third party, such as a grandparent or aunt.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, opposes the bill, saying it doesn't do anything to help the person who is addicted.

"I don't want tax dollars paying for someone's drugs, either," she said. "But what this bill does is just punitive and it ends up hurting the children. And let's just not assume that they're drug addicts because they're poor, particularly if they're compliant with the tenets of the program."

The bill is also opposed by Colleen Coble, executive director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

"As the bill is designed now, we're still going to have children living in poverty with less income coming into the house with a parent who has a substance abuse problem with no means for treatment," Coble said.

Medicaid doesn't pay for drug treatment, Coble said, and there's nothing in the bill to provide for it.

But Brandom said there is no money in the budget to pay for drug treatment. If enacted, the law is projected to cost nearly $2 million, though Brandom takes issue with that estimate, saying that she believes it could be half that.

Besides, she said, there would be savings to consider as well, including the $58 from those who are taken off welfare rolls for testing positive as well as the potential for millions in savings in health care costs. Brandom pointed out that women who use drugs while pregnant sometimes give birth to babies with serious medical conditions. Testing welfare recipients would be an incentive for them not to use drugs, she said.

"Sometimes tough love has been proven to be the best help for an addict to get off drugs," Brandom said.

Local lawmakers said they intend to vote for the bill next week, including Reps. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, and Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie. With 106 Republicans out of 163 members, Brandom said she's confident the bill will pass and move on to the Senate.

"I think Missourians are largely in favor of this," she said. "It's time."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent Address:

Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City, Mo

By the numbers

County Families receiving TANF/monthCash benefits in 2010
Cape Girardeau 522$1.37 million
Bollinger 100$283,212
Perry 114$302,484
Scott 616$1.58 million

SOURCE: Missouri Department of Social Services

Pertinent Address:

Missouri State Capitol, Jefferson City, Mo

Map of pertinent addresses

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