Taking a page from Florida’s book, the state of Mississippi has passed its own mandatory drug test for welfare bill. The measure is currently on Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk awaiting signing and will be enacted on July 1, once signed.
The law will require new applicants who sign up for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Mississippi to submit to a state-issued questionnaire to determine whether or not they are at risk for substance abuse. Applicants who do not pass the questionnaire will be forced to submit to a drug urinalysis. Failing a drug test results in overly severe penalties and repercussions.
Failing just once lands an applicant into a substance abuse program; a second failure results in suspension from TANF benefits for 90 days, and a third time, suspension for an entire year.
The state plans on using money from the TANF budget, that would otherwise be used to help families purchase groceries, to fund the questionnaires and drug tests. Despite clear implications of the law’s unconstitutionality, the Mississippi governor somehow thinks the measure will be a good thing.
“The TANF program is a safety net for families in need, and adding this screening process will aid adults who are trapped in a dependency lifestyle so they can better provide for their children,” said Bryant. “This measure will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”
Several other states, including Utah, Georgia, Kansas, Arizona, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida, have passed similar measures, and each state has a Republican as governor. Last year, Florida’s version of the law was struck down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Instituted as a way to force potential drug abusers to scale back on the habit, these laws are proving to be something else entirely in some states. In Utah, only 12 percent of TANF applicants tested positive for drug use. In Florida, less at two percent. The expense hardly seems worth the skimpy results, despite Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s prediction. The state of Virginia, which was on the verge of passing their own TANF drug test law, stalled the legislation when lawmakers realized the state would spend $1.5 million while only saving $229,000.
Currently, cash benefits for 99 percent of welfare recipients are worth less now than they were in the mid-90s. In 1996, Congress passed a welfare reform that relinquished the federal government’s role in sharing welfare costs, instead, allowing the states a fixed amount to disperse.
Drug test welfare laws keep being implemented by Republican lawmakers to fix a perceived problem that the law has proved to hardly exist. To make low-income Americans submit to a drug test for government aid suggests that lawmakers believe in the stereotype that if someone is poor, then they must do drugs.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.