Advocates for Poor Concerned about New Law

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A new law in Mississippi requires TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), or welfare applicants, to answer a questionnaire that could lead to drug testing.

Assistance would be cut off if someone tested positive after treatment. The ripple effect of that is what put advocates on notice.

"As policies are being made we know unintended consequences happen and those unintended consequences get passed on to the families, and in this case, passed on to the children," said Cassandra Welchin of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative.

The group participated in a TANF public hearing with the Department of Human Services last month. Testimonies came from childcare providers, parents and lawmakers. Most of the concerns were about the risk of children getting benefits cut off due to poor decisions by their parents.

"Children don't need their services interrupted," said Welchin. "They need to be able to continue to have food to eat, to be able to still attend childcare, so they can be educated."

DHS took those concerns into consideration. The implementation was delayed until the public hearing was complete. It took effect Aug. 1 instead. The change decided on? The penalty for a second negative drug test will only be for the individual, not the whole family. The ACLU had pushed for that option.

Charles Irvin, legal director for the Mississippi ACLU, said he's glad to see a small change in the rules but he's concerned about the effectiveness of the questionnaire and who will pay for the treatment.

"This is going to be a strain upon the system," Irvin said. "When there are better ways to address issues across the entire population for drug use."

"The voices of the community are so important on these kinds of issues and so we're glad that we were able to step in there and give that testimony," Welchin said.

The organizations don't want to completely drop the ball on this issue.

They'll follow the implementation and work with allies in the legislature next session. Ultimately, they'd like to see it repealed.