NORTHEAST Miss. (WCBI)- Mississippi families who apply for welfare assistance in the future may also face drug tests.
But, as Governor Phil Bryant prepares to sign the welfare drug testing bill into law, the debate over whether it’s fair and even cost effective continues.
The average family receives about $140 in benefits each month. Drug testing and treatment is an additional cost, from screening to the actual test. Then the treatment sessions are estimated at around $25 per session.
The largest point of contention seems to be the stigma attached to the new bill, being labeled as “drug abusers.”
64- year-old Josetta Jefferson and her mother are welfare recipients. She believes the drug testing bill is a huge mistake, especially for her generation.
“You have a lot of senior citizens like myself and others, like my mother and older people that’s on welfare, food stamps, medicare and medicaid. Now if it was just teenagers or younger people, I can see it, but you can’t do it without doing everybody,” said Jefferson.
House Bill 49 requires any adult applying for TANF for the first time, to fill out a questionnaire. If the answers show possible illegal drug use, recipients will undergo a drug test. If drugs are found, they’ll undergo treatment.
Lowndes County Supervisor LeRoy Books believes it’s a waste of time and money.
“It seems to be picking on poor people. Because people are having difficult times or need government assistance does not mean they’re bad people. It does not mean that they’re drug addicts. Several other states that tried it found out it really wasn’t many people abusing drugs. They’re going to find that many people getting TANF support are not out snorting up coke or doing crack. I just thought it was a poor piece of legislation,” said Supervisor Brooks.
Nancy Guerry with Helping Hands sees it more as outreach.
” For one thing, I think everybody receiving public benefits of any kind should have drug testing like anyone who’s going to be employed by an outside employees. But if a family or individual is on drugs, it might be good that we find out as a community so we can do something to help them resolve that problem. Not necessarily take them off the benefits, I don’t want to see them lose their benefits because of it. If we could set up a system where they can get help,” said Guerry.
Jefferson thinks lawmakers should focus on meaningful legislation, like helping the elderly.
“The things that they need to target on, they do not. Like keeping senior citizens benefits and things and keeping their health well maintained,” said Jefferson.
Supporters of the bill say one positive test will not disqualify you from the program but if you continue to test positive, that could.