The Missouri House Thursday passed a bill that would require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion" they used drugs. But the Senate version of that bill, SB 607, is under sustained attack by Senate Democrats, who are filibustering it this week.
Under the bills, all work-eligible adults who received cash payments through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program would be drug tested if a caseworker has "reasonable suspicion" they are using drugs. Those who test positive would become temporarily ineligible for cash assistance, but their children could continue to receive benefits through a third party.
TANF is a federal program designed to help poverty-stricken parents provide for their children. In Missouri, more than 112,000 people get cash assistance through the program. The average family on the program gets $292 a month.
A legislative staff fiscal analysis of the Senate bill put the annual cost to the state at more than $5 million next year, and more than $6 million in coming years. Those figures represent the cost of drug testing an estimated 90,000 TANF recipients or new applicants each year and the cost of providing additional drug treatment services to deal with those who test positive.
But in debate this week, Senate Democrats said the fiscal analysis didn't take into account the cost of possibly having to care for children whose parents are denied benefits. "The people who are the complete, total innocent victims in this are the kids," said Sen. Victor Callahan (D-Independence), the Senate minority leader. "Let's act like a responsible family," he said. "What about our brother's kids?"
Republicans said the bill just made good sense. "It seems to prevent the state of Missouri from becoming an enabler to addiction," said Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin).
Will the Senate filibuster succeed? Stay tuned.