- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A bill requiring some Mississippi welfare recipients to be tested for illegal drugs headed to Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk Wednesday.

The state Senate passed House Bill 49, which would require testing for adults whose answers on an application for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families indicate possible drug use. The House passed the bill earlier.

“The TANF program is a safety net for families in need, and adding this screening process will aid adults who are trapped in a dependency lifestyle so they can better provide for their children,” Bryant said in a statement welcoming its passage. “This measure will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.”

TANF is a government program that provides money to low-income families with children up to age 18.

A person who tests positive for drugs would be required to undergo treatment and pass future tests to keep TANF benefits. Anyone who doesn’t follow the rules can’t reapply for 90 days after the first lapse and for a year after the second one.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services’ annual report says that for the 2013 budget year, which ended June 30, the average monthly payment to a family receiving TANF was $140 and the average payment to an individual was $67. The report said that in June, 9,563 families received TANF payments.

Utah started a drug-testing program for welfare recipients in 2012. A state agency found that the state spent $30,000 the first year and found 12 people who tested positive for drug use. Bryant has said he believes Mississippi would run a program for a similar amount of money.

Opponents say the bill could deny money to poor children whose parents are scared away by the rules. They also say it’s a waste of money because few drug users are likely to be found.

“If you think that’s a fiscally conservative, sound use of money, then you need to vote for this bill,” said state Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, an opponent.

On Dec. 31, a federal judge ruled that Florida’s law requiring drug testing for welfare applicants is unconstitutional and shouldn’t be enforced. U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven wrote that a pervasive drug problem does not exist among TANF applicants.

Mississippi’s bill would take effect July 1.

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Online: House Bill 49, http://bit.ly/N7ZxZZ

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