Martin Karamra

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX CAPITOL BUREAU/MDN) – The senate Health Committee debated a bill on drug testing for welfare recipients Tuesday.

“We should discourage drug use and not reward it,” Republican Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, said to the Senate Health Committee Tuesday in urging them to approve her measure that would require drug testing of welfare recipients.

The House approved Brandom’s bill earlier in January.

It would require drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and recipients suspected of drug use.  A person positive for an illegal drug would be banned from TANF benefits for one year.  About 44,000 families receive TANF benefits.

“We don’t want tax dollars to be spent on drugs,” said Brandom, underlining that the current model of state assistance attribution is “not teaching personal responsibility.”

Colleen Coble, lobbyist for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, warned the committee that the bill would “leave many children with less money in the household and addicted parents.” Colleen said the bill’s only labeling people, without really addressing the problem.

Pat Dougherty, representing the Catholic Charities of Archdiocese of St Louis, pointed out there are thousands of others who get money from the state and possibly abuse them, but no one requires them to take the drug tests. “This bill targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children,” said Dougherty.

“We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you’ve got a penalty there,” he said. “We got on the wrong bus – there has to be a better way to do this.”

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests.

“In Florida, they did about 9000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted,” Nadal said. Legislative staff have estimated the testing requirements could cost the state up to $2.3 million.

Brandom responded she would “consider it a victory,” if only small number of tested would be eventually convicted. According to the fiscal note, HB 73 will annually cost the Department of Social Services $4.5 million. 

The Committee chair — Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville — said the bill is going to stay open for more discussion. “It’s gonna run into a heavy opposition if we don’t land the ship,” she concluded, saying the committee will discuss the bill and execute on it later this week.


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