Revised Mississippi Welfare Law Could Punish Children of Addicts
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Mississippi’s attempt at welfare reform could wind up punishing the children of drug addicts by restricting their access to welfare benefits.
The new law, known as HB 49, includes a provision that calls for cutting off the welfare benefits for children if a parent refuses a drug test or fails one after completing a treatment program. Mississippi is one of 10 states since 2011 that have passed laws which require testing or screening Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients for drug use. A provision of the 1996 welfare reform bill has also left most states banning some, if not all people from receiving food stamp benefits if they have a previous felony drug conviction.
Civil rights groups have slammed the new provision by declaring that it punishes the families of drug users and “is in direct conflict with the state law.” However, it continues to be championed by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, who believes it “will help make a positive difference for families impacted by substance abuse.” Ironically, two separate amendments requiring executives of government-subsidized companies to take drug tests, in addition to legislators, were ultimately dismissed.
Missouri currently has a lifetime food stamp ban for convicted drug felons, but is currently considering revising their policy. A proposed bill with bipartisan support is seeking to lift the food stamp ban for individuals one year after their conviction or release from prison. It would also be contingent on either completing a drug treatment program or being certified as not needing treatment. Anyone with three drug-related felony convictions would still be banned from the SNAP program.
“We know that with proper treatment and rehabilitation, people can get clean and sober and never use again,” said Christine McDonald, a Missouri native and former addict who has been denied food stamps because of convictions over a decade ago. “If we take care, nurture the person, we keep the disease of addiction at bay. If you can’t feed yourself or your family, out of frustration you’re going to go back to the drugs, back to whatever criminal acts get the money for the drugs.”