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Drug testing delayed for Mississippi welfare recipients

By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - A new Mississippi law requiring drug testing for some welfare recipients will not take effect on July 1 as scheduled after state officials agreed to allow civil liberties groups to voice concerns at an upcoming public hearing.

The implementation date will be determined after the July 22 hearing, according to a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

The delay, announced on Thursday, was requested by the national and state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mississippi Center for Justice. The groups are concerned about who will pay for the testing and what happens to children and household members relying on the benefits if they are denied.

"It is really murky," said Charles Irvin, legal director for the ACLU of Mississippi. "You have children who will be affected if the law is not cleaned up."

The law requires applicants for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to fill out a questionnaire that will be used to flag potential drug abusers for screening.

Participants who test positive for drugs can continue getting benefits if they receive substance abuse treatment. It is not clear who would pay for the treatment, Irvin said.

The ACLU did not support the law, which was signed in March by Republican Governor Phil Bryant, but hopes to "improve it to a point where it is not adversely affecting children and families," Irvin said.

He declined to comment on a possible legal challenge.

Earlier this month, Georgia state officials decided not to drug test some food stamp recipients under a new law that both federal and state officials concluded was illegal.

A federal judge late last year struck down a Florida law requiring drug screening for welfare recipients, ruling it violated the constitutional prohibition on unreasonable searches.

(Editing by David Adams and Bill Trott)

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