News Chew

On Monday Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill requiring any individual seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) cash assistance who are deemed “reasonably likely to have a substance use disorder” to undergo drug testing before they can receive cash support.

Does this program provide effective incentives for addicts to get clean? Or is it essentially punitive? Does this mean families with an addict head of household will have to jump through more hoops to pay their and their children’s expenses? How does this help?

Those who test positive for a controlled substance may still receive cash assistance if they enroll in and complete an offered drug treatment plan. Cash assistance will end if any follow-up drug test (during or after treatment) is positive, with substantial waiting periods to re-apply: 90 days for the first positive test, 12 months for the second. Individuals chosen for drug testing will be determined by their answers to a written questionnaire.

It looks like the screening process won’t effect TANF food stamps or EBT, so reflects a logic that a drug addict cannot be trusted with cash money.

Bryant said the new program will “make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse,” indicating that the screening process is an appropriate part of the TANF program’s mission to provide a “safety net for families in need.”

It goes into effect July 1st.

The bill:

Gov. Phil Bryant’s March 12 press release

4 thoughts on “News Chew”

  1. Do I hafta choose? Sounds both effectively incenting and punitive to me. I have always liked food stamps, as a mechanism to make it at least somewhat more difficult to spend aid on things which do children no good. Stories about food stamp debit cards being used to buy cases of soda which are then resold for 50 cents on the dollar make this seem less effective.

    To the extent that, in providing money we are using junkie parents as our agents to provide a decent life for their children, and giving them benefits which are calculated based partly on those children, I am willing to be pretty coercive and don’t care much about being respectful of the dignity of the recipients.

  2. It looks to me like a cheap publicity stunt that will have almost no effect one way or the other. Very, very few individuals will be drug tested.

    Nobody is tested unless the questionnaire shows that they're likely to have a substance use disorder. I suppose a valid question might be: "What sort of illegal drugs have you used in the last six months, and how often have you used them?" (Go to the current DSM and find some more valid questions.)

    If somebody doesn't want to be drug-tested (and I imagine few people will want to) they'll just lie.

  3. If it does nothing else, it will reduce the number of people applying for TANF. The process is already unpleasant enough, and some number of people will decide that an extra $90-150 a month (after EBT fees) isn’t worth another set of forms, the indignity of peeing in a cup and the risk of prosecution. (The law says that the results of the test are private, but that’s not necessarily credible to applicants, and the consequences of the test result aren’t private either.) This change also introduces a risk of welfare-fraud prosecution for anyone who is arrested on drug charges subsequent to receiving TANF.

    A lot also depends on the regulations that are written to implement the law (e.g. the survey instrument and what’s considered a red-flag answer). This being Mississippi I am not sanguine.

  4. How likely is it that this programme will be administered in a colour-blind way?

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