Mississippi Welfare Testing Program Records Just Two Positive Results

By McCarton Ackerman 12/08/14

Despite the obvious failure, Republican lawmakers believe the expense in time and money is worth it.

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Mississippi is only four months into its run of drug testing welfare recipients, but the program has already proven to be a stunning failure.

Only two applicants have recorded positive results out of the 38 who were tested for drug use. The law went into effect on Aug. 1 and requires anyone receiving government assistance to fill out a questionnaire. Similar to programs in other states, anyone who indicates the possibility of substance abuse with their answers would be required to take a drug test.

If they tested positive, their cash benefits would be removed unless they enrolled in a drug treatment program. A second positive test would result in the user permanently losing their benefits. But despite a success rate of just over five percent, the bill’s author insists the testing program is working.

"I always said if we can get one, two or 10 off of drugs, it's worth it,” said House Public Health and Human Services Chairman Sam Mims (R-McComb). “We are able to help two families.”

Opponents of the program also object to the high cost of treatment that those who test positive are required to undergo. Inpatient rehabs in the state can cost upwards of $16,000 per month, which is more than the amount of welfare the addict would receive annually in some cases. Although Mims said that Medicaid would cover the cost of treatment, others believe the testing is simply an effective use of government funds.

"Poor working families don't need a barrier to services and this is just another barrier," Cassandra Welchin, policy director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. “It’s a waste of money.”

Kansas has also gotten off to a similarly slow start with its welfare testing program that was launched last July, with only 20 people being tested in the last four months. However, state officials believe that the number of tests will increase over time.

“This is something that is going to take time to implement across the state,” said Kansas Senate President Jeff King, the primary sponsor and supporter of the bill. “It is impossible to fully evaluate a program that is only four months old. We want to give it time to administratively work.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.