JEFFERSON CITY — Republican senators outlined proposals Tuesday to direct the Missouri Department of Social Services to set up a drug-testing program for work-eligible welfare recipients.
A Senate committee heard testimony on a variety of different drug-testing bills, all of which apply only if there is "reasonable cause" to believe welfare recipients are using illegal drugs.
Missouri had 43,715 families participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as of September, the most recent month for which statistics were available. Participants have a five year limit on the amount of cash assistance they can receive in their lifetime.
The drug-testing bills range from allowing welfare recipients to regain benefits once they pass a drug test to imposing a three year ban on aid after positive drug tests.
Similar legislation passed through the House last year but died in the Senate.
Lawmakers said taxpayers have a right to put restrictions on the people who get state assistance.
"This is something the taxpayers have been asking for for years," said sponsoring Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon. "They get a little bent out of shape when they're being taken advantage of."
Another bill sponsor, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, equated not testing welfare recipients to the state being an "enabler."
"They're paying for these drugs some way," Stouffer said.
Some of the bills include a provision to allow other people in the drug-user's household to still have access to their portion of the welfare funds through a third party.
"So the drug using participant would not be able to get their hands on the kids money," said Goodman, who sponsored one of the bills.
Several bills would require the department to refer people who test positive to a drug treatment facility. Whether the state would pay for treatment would depend on if there is money appropriated for it.
Opponents said they approve of the proposal's public policy goals but said the state isn't financially ready to implement the drug-testing program.
"We don't have a system that can respond to the needs of drug addicted Missourians," said Colleen Coble, CEO of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. "I don't believe the public policy intention (of the bills) can be met."
Many prospective new clients are being turned away from certain mental health care programs, such as addiction services, because of budget cuts made in October by Gov. Jay Nixon.