Should the State Drug Test Welfare Recipients? -

Should the State Drug Test Welfare Recipients?

Lawmakers in Missouri are considering HB 1377, which would require some recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (most of us know it as welfare) to undergo drug testing.  The author of the bill expects a House vote as early as next week.

Read HB 1377 here:

The bill passed through a rules committee this week and heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Here's how it would work:

The legislation would task the Missouri Department of Social Services with setting up a drug-testing program for recipients who are suspected of using illegal drugs.  Those who test positive would have the right to an administrative hearing and then would lose assistance for a year.   (Other similar bills up for consideration in the State Senate say that benefits could be taken away for up to three years).

The Department of Social Services would have to refer those who test positive to a drug treatment program.

There is an exception for other members of the household who are eligible for assistance, but did not test positive.  The bill calls for a 3rd party to handle the money for other members of the family.   The Department of Social Services would have to determine who that 3rd party is.

Anticipated costs:

The state would have to pay for the treatment of those referred to a drug treatment program.  According to the Department of Mental Health, treatment costs for one person in treatment program can range from $1,081 to $3,194.

The average cost to drug test a TANF recipient would be $55 - according to information in the bill's fiscal note.

According to the Department of Social Services, the program would cost the state's general revenue fund over two million dollars in 2011 and nearly four million by 2013. 

You can read the full fiscal note here:

More than 100,000 on welfare in Missouri:

As of September, 2009 (the most recent stats available), 112,602 individuals received TANF money.  The year before that, 101,624 individuals took TANF funds - according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.

It's not clear how many of the recipients would be asked to take a drug test.

One lawmakers says the proposal is a publicity stunt:

Representative Jake Zimmerman (a St. Louis County Democrat) voted against the measure in rules committee Monday, saying that the proposal is not practical and could raise the ire of the federal government - which does not require drug testing.  He says federal funds could be pulled if the state does not fall into line with federal requirements.  Rep. Zimmerman added that he would rather focus on steering recipients toward jobs, which usually require some form of drug testing.

Representative Ellen Brandom (a southeast Missouri Republican) proposed the legislation.  She says the legislation would help drug users get treatment and protect unborn babies of pregnant mothers.  She told me that taxpayers resent their money being used to subsidize illegal drug use and that the bill could help deter abuse in the welfare system.

More on Rep. Zimmerman here:

More on Rep. Brandom here:

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