Mo. House passes welfare drug testing legislation

Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients and direct those who test positive to treatment programs.

Under the bill, welfare applicants or recipients could be given a urine test if the Department of Social Services has a “reasonable cause” to believe they having been using illegal drugs. If people fail or refuse to take the drug test, they could receive benefits only so long as they participate in and complete a drug treatment program and do not test positive again. Otherwise, those who test positive would lose benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for three years.

“Hardworking taxpayers don’t want their money to be subsidizing other people’s drug use,” said sponsoring Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston.

The House gave final approval to the bill 113-34, sending it to Gov. Jay Nixon. The Senate passed the bill late last month.

Under the bill, only the adult who failed the drug test would be at risk of losing welfare benefits. The state would choose a third party to receive the share of the benefits that would have gone to the person’s children.

The adult treatment program had been added to the legislation with the support of Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, who said it could help prevent people from testing positive multiple times.

“This helps people actually get rid of the problem that caused them to lose their benefits,” Justus said after the Senate passed its bill last month.

Collen Coble, the executive director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, praised lawmakers for adding the treatment language. But she said backlogs in many private and state-funded treatment programs could make it more difficult for people who test positive to get help for their additions.

“I fear the unintended consequences of taking money away from a family that is already living in poverty,” she said. “There will be some delay in your ability to get the treatment you need.”

The legislation would require that all electronic benefit cards include a photo of the recipient and be renewed every three years. Most welfare payments are not issued as checks, but rather as debit cards that recipients swipe when they make a purchase.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said including a photograph on the cards would prevent welfare recipients from trading or selling their benefit cards to other people.

Measures to drug test some welfare recipients have been proposed in numerous states this year.

Michigan was the first state to pass legislation to drug test all welfare recipients, but the measure was struck down by a court in 2003, saying it would be unconstitutional to test an entire group of people without a specific cause simply because they receive government assistance.

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Welfare drug testing bill is HB73

Online:

Legislature: http://moga.mo.gov

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