Assistance rules revised after public comment on drug testing

JACKSON – Children’s rights advocates are applauding a revision in the rules governing Mississippi’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a provision which would force some people who apply for TANF to take a drug test. A positive result would mean an end to the assistance for the whole family.
Children’s advocates argued the practice would punish children in those families and did not provide adequate resources for the parents, who would be expected to pay for the test and any ensuing treatment. The state took comments at a July 22 public hearing and the Mississippi Department of Human Services revised the rules so children will still receive assistance. The Mississippi Center for Justice, one of the organizations speaking out against the harsher drug testing rules, released a statement Aug. 5.
“We applaud DHS for adopting a provision that protects TANF payments for children. This action comes after a July 22 public hearing that we called for and that featured heartfelt testimony calling for the change to protect payments for children, among other things. While we are generally very pleased with the new regulations, we continue to express concern about the viability of the chosen screening instrument, and reassert that TANF recipients should not be required to pay for the treatment process,” the statement said.
Other critics of the law, including the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, argue that drug testing, especially when the person knows the date of the test, is inefficient and ineffective and that recipients are already screened by a case worker who should be able to identify and address any substance abuse problems. The revised rules went into effect Aug. 1.