The Missouri Senate and House have sent the budget for next year to the Governor’s office for his signature. One piece of legislation that was passed and is waiting for the Governor’s signature concerns me a great deal. The legislation proposes that persons applying for or receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) from the state would be subject to a drug test before receiving benefits. It is unclear whether this would apply to every applicant or would be at the discretion of the worker taking the application for TANF. If a person refuses drug testing or tests positive for an illegal drug they would be ineligible for TANF for three years unless they complete a substance abuse program. As I understand the bill, the parent would also be hotlined for child abuse if they test positive. Obviously no one is encouraging the use of illegal drugs but it seems to me that this legislation focuses on a population that is an easy target. Many groups in this state receive some type of subsidy from the state - farmers, developers, and legislatures just to name a few. Why, then, are we targeting families living in poverty? Is it because we can and right now it is politically expedient to do so? Why do we presume that folks who receive TANF are the only group we must test? Is this just another effort to look like we are tough on this issue? Many groups have state subsides. Why aren’t we mandating testing for all of them if we are really being good stewards of state money? A parent receiving state subsidy for a family of three receives $234 a month in TANF.
The proposed legislation creates a program that will cause more problems than it will solve. Why is there a notion that these parents who are trying so hard to survive with their children should be singled out for this testing?
There are many reasons the governor should veto this bill:
1. We are singling out a group of people, folks that have no voice and no lobby, simply because we can.
2. Mandating someone goes to drug treatment is easy. The hard part is finding a treatment program that has openings.
3. A parent that does not go for treatment would lose benefits for three years. These parents have children who need housing, utilities, clothing, etc. etc. This will punish them. The children will once again be victims of a system that does not value them.
4. This last winter, area emergency centers could not meet the needs of rent and utility funding. Many working families went without utilities. What will this legislation do to families?
5. This bill requires that parents with a positive drug test be reported to the state child abuse hotline. This system is already overwhelmed and having a difficult time meeting the need for services for children. Also, a person who is drug tested for a job and fails the test is not hotlined even if they have children. Why are there different rules for families living in poverty?
The states that have passed this legislation have found in expensive, illegal, and counterproductive and all but one has abandoned it. Why should Missouri do something that has been found useless and meaningless in other states?
I urge you to call Governor Nixon and ask him to veto HB 73 and HB 47. It is mean-spirited, unfair, very expensive, and proven to be totally ineffective in other states. Governor Nixon's phone number is (573) 751-3222.