It seems our legislative GOPers down here have joined the “punish the poor” Republican brigade in Congress, but even added another wrinkle to punish low income folks.
Having already visited several hurtful woes on the state’s teeming poor citizens, Mississippi House Republicans last week added the threat of drug testing for working poor who apply for welfare benefits under what is called TANF. Another instance of using extreme measures to cure a problem that doesn’t exist.
Brief history: TANF stands for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
Led by Rep. Sam Mims of McComb, the Public Health chairman, House Repubs pushed through a bill on party lines requiring new TANF applicants to take a drug test if they don’t give satisfactory answers on their application. Who would decide if the answers were satisfactory? They would be hired hands contracted by the state, naturally at federal expense. That’s contract No. l. Contract No. 2 would be hired drug testers.
Democrats proposed requiring competitive bids to get a state contract, certainly de rigueur with Republicans. But GOPers turned it down.
Neither Mims nor any of his supporters offered any proof that the measure was needed to stop a rash of drug abuse among applicants (usually single mothers) for TANF benefits. Only 10,000 are now on TANF rolls with benefits averaging a handsome $87 per month. Mims, who is a salesman for a home health care outfit, merely argued that the drug testing idea was “good public policy” which could make “better parents and community members.” Gov. Phil Bryant was quick to chime in with a similar statement.
House Democrats could have made the GOPers squirm if they had proposed an amendment requiring drug testing for legislators. Instead, Rep. Cecil Brown D-Jackson offered an amendment requiring drug test for corporate or business executives who seek cash or subsidies from the state for an industrial venture. Can’t you see Japanese auto industry brass from Yokohama Tires or Toyota having to put up with drug tests.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate in economics recently ticked off a series of instances in the Republican track record of inflicting damage on the poor. His list starts, of course, with the refusal of some 25 Republican-controlled states to implement Medicaid coverage under Obamacare, thereby denying health care coverage to some 5 million poor Americans. As Krugman points out the federal government would pick up virtually all the tab.
As we know quite well here in Mississippi, Republicans who now control state policy have adamantly refused to logically discuss why they oppose Medicaid expansion. No matter that ours is regarded as the nation’s poorest state, and has some 300,000 working poor without health coverage.
Krugman further points out that these same Republican-controlled states are the ones slashing unemployment benefits and, generally, cutting education funding. We fit very comfortably into both categories.
Governor Bryant and his Republican allies have not been without editorial criticism from Mississippi papers. Both the Greenwood Commonwealth and the McComb Enterprise-Journal (Mims’ hometown paper) have editorially branded the GOP’s recent drug-testing measure as “pandering to conservative voters who look down on anyone who gets government help,” excepting “if their corporate friends are recipients of it.”
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps GOPers say. And if you don’t have boots to pull up, too bad.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org.