New Missouri law requires drug tests for welfare recipients

By Kase Wickman
Wednesday, July 13, 2011 13:32 EDT
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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) signed new legislation this week that will allow the state’s social workers to administer drug tests to welfare recipients, the result of which could jeopardize their state aid, the Associated Press reported.

Those who test positive for drug use and agree to a substance abuse program may keep their benefits under the new law, but those who refuse either the drug test or a program after a positive result lose their benefits for three years.

The law also requires that welfare recipients’ photographs be added to their benefit cards.

As of May, 42,038 families participated in Missouri’s welfare program, a total of 108,180 people. The state estimated that the new changes could cost hundreds of thousands per year.

“We just think it’s targeting people with really no basis for the targeting,” John Chasnoff, program director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, told the AP.

Other states have similar programs, which the ACLU has also decried as discriminatory. The Florida law requiring drug testing for all welfare recipients was signed in late May.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) claimed that the new rule was to promote personal accountability.

“While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction,” he said.

The ACLU released data in 2008 supporting their claims that drug testing for welfare eligibility was unconstitutional and fiscally irresponsible. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also conducted a study that showed that welfare recipients were no more likely to be drug users than the rest of the population.

A similar 2003 law in Michigan was struck down by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit.

In an op-ed in the Kansas City Star, Alice Kitchen, founder of the Kansas City Task Force on Drug Affected Families, called the bill “meanspirited and an embarrassment to our citizens,” pointing out that the bill mandates a treatment program but does not fund the programs.

“The only entities that stand to benefit are the drug-testing companies,” she wrote.

Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman
Kase Wickman is a reporter for Raw Story. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and grew up in Eugene, OR. Her work has been featured in The Boston Globe, Village Voice Media, The Christian Science Monitor, The Houston Chronicle and on NPR, among others. She lives in New York City and tweets from @kasewickman.
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