Health Forward Foundation

Bill Passed to Require Drug Testing on Welfare Recipient in Missouri; Discussions Advance in Kansas

Welfare recipients in Missouri who test positive for illicit drugs after raising the “reasonable suspicion” of a social worker stand to lose their benefits under a bill passed this session by the state legislature.

And an even tougher bill – mandating random drug testing for welfare recipients – will be brought up next session in Topeka, said the Kansas lawmaker who has pushed such proposals in the past.

The Missouri bill was passed May 10. It mandates drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federally funded program, who are suspected of drug abuse. Those who test positive would be dropped from the program.

Because the bill passed the Missouri House and Senate with veto-proof majorities, it is expected to soon become law.

However, Gov. Jay Nixon and leaders of the Missouri Department Social Services didn’t have much to say on the subject during the past week, attending instead to the aftermath of the May 22 tornado that killed at least 139 people in Joplin.

“We won’t know much about the implementation of this new law until the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules promulgates rules,” said Seth Bundy, a spokesman for the social services department.

According to the “TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act,” its purpose is “to protect the children in the home … and to prevent abuse of taxpayer money by taking measures to ensure that such individuals receiving temporary assistance for needy families benefits are free of drug and alcohol abuse.”

An exception will be made for someone who tests positive for a first time, if he or she successfully completes a substance-abuse treatment program and tests negative during the subsequent six months.

But those who test positive a second time will be declared ineligible for benefits for three years. Those who refuse a test would be barred from benefits for two years.

Children of parents whose benefits are terminated may still receive benefits through third party, according to the bill.

In Kansas, Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said she planned to bring back her drug-testing bill in the next legislative session, after giving it a break during the one that ended May 13.

Kelley first proposed a bill in 2009 to mandate random drug testing for all Kansas TANF recipients and to deny benefits to those who tested positive. It passed the Kansas House in 2009 but never got out of committee in the Senate.

In the 2010 session, Kelley responded to criticism of the bill by adding a provision requiring the 165 members of the Legislature to undergo the same type of screening. It, too, died in a Senate committee.

About one-third of Kansas TANF recipients, or 8,400 people, would have been screened annually under the program outlined by Kelley at an estimated cost of $1 million a year.

In an email exchange, Kelley explained why she did not introduce a similar bill in the legislative session that just ended.

“We have a new administration, a new secretary,” of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Kelley said. “Although I have had a good discussion of the issue with Secretary (Robert) Seidlecki, given the challenge he has balancing human needs with limited resources in the immediate present, it was my decision to wait one cycle before again introducing the bill.”

Kelley said she is “quite happy with the legislation as currently written.”

“Although the floor discussion was lengthy, as the subject merits, there was easy passage twice out of the House. When I first ran the bill, a few amendments were added in committee and on the House floor. While I would not have had them drafted myself, neither did they really change the scope or intent of the base bill. For some, the changes strengthened the underlying piece of legislation, and I was supportive of those efforts.”

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