Missouri Considers Drug Testing Welfare Recipients
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Missouri Considers Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Date: March 24, 2011
By: Elizabeth Hagedorn
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HCS HB 73 SCS SB 7

Missouri lawmakers are debating whether drug-abusing parents are deserving of state welfare money. Elizabeth Hagedorn has more from Jefferson City.
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Wrap: Drug abuse is a family disease.

That's what John Aliperti, a substance abuse counselor at a treatment center in St. Louis called Harris House, says.

Drug use in low-income families is something he sees in his work everyday.

In one case, Aliperti worked with a father desperately trying to stay off drugs to see his kids.

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Description: "He was only able to see his kids on a regular basis. And that particular person relapsed recently, so we kind of lost track of him."
Over 100,000 low-income parents like him are now the subject of debate among Missouri lawmakers.
In January, House members passed a bill that would drug test parents who are getting temporary welfare assistance.

The Department of Social Services would test parents they suspect may be using drugs.

Those who test positive would lose their welfare benefits.  

The bill's sponsor, Sikeston Republican Representative Ellen Brandom, says the bill would keep taxpayer money from going to drug abusers.

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Description: "We do not want to see hard earned tax dollars being used for the use of illegal substances."

Brandom adds that keeping children away from parents who use drugs should be a priority.

Democratic St. Louis City Representative Jeanette Oxford opposed the bill on the House floor.

Oxford says one of her concerns with the bill is that the state does not provide treatment centers for those who test positive.

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Description: "We're trying to do this out of a sense of tough love, but when you have tough with no love combined with it, it's just abuse. I think it's just very abusive of welfare recipients."
Oxford also says she's concerned that state workers aren't trained to be experts at determining who might be using drugs.

Arizona was the first state to drug test welfare recipients.
Since its program began in November 2009, only one person has tested positive.
Opponents of the bill point to Arizona's mixed success and ask if such a program in Missouri would be cost-effective.
Jackson County Republican Senator Will Kraus is a co-sponsor of a similar drug testing bill in the Senate. He says the legislation will send a clear message to drug users.
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Description: "This is an ability for us to send a message to drug users number one, not the apply and number two if you are caught you are going to be removed from the program if you do use drugs."

But would taking away money really send a message?

Percy Menzies, the president of Assisted Recovery Centers of America, a drug treatment center in St. Louis, says even taking away benefits from from users who test positive won't help them.

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Description: It's not getting to the root of the problem. You have to really get to the root of the problem. Many of these people are stuck in a perpetual state of poverty. They have no education."

But Aliperti disagrees.
He says the threat of losing both benefits and time with their children would motivate at least some parents to stay away from drugs.
Reporting from Jefferson City, I'm Elizabeth Hagedorn.