JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Department of Social Services said Wednesday that it has not drug-tested a single person receiving state welfare benefits, more than a year after lawmakers voted to allow the testing of some recipients.
The department's spokeswoman, Rebecca L. Woelfel, told a Missouri Digital News reporter that no drug tests have been administered to applicants or recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program because the department is still formulating rules to implement the drug testing law, which Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed in July 2011.
"So the drug testing won't begin until it's approved, the rule is approved," Woelfel said at the department's Jefferson City offices.
"So no drug testing at all has happened so far?" the reporter asked.
"Yeah, it still hasn't taken place," she said. "We're still kind of in the stages. We have to get the rule approved before the drug testing can begin."
Under the 2011 law, the department is to give a urine test to a welfare applicant or recipient if it has "reasonable cause" to believe that person is using illegal drugs. If a person tests positive, the law provides that they are to lose their benefits for three years. A person who tests positive but enters a rehabilitation program could have their benefits restored more quickly.
In June of this year, the department proposed six rules related to law. Those rules were published in the Aug. 1 edition of the Missouri Register, a public record of rules and executive orders put out monthly by the Secretary of State's office.
In September, the Missouri Digital News filed a legal request under the state's open records law to obtain records of communication between department Interim Director Brian Kinkade and department staff who would implement the law.
In a Sept. 20 email to MDN, the department's custodian of records, attorney Scotty L. Allen, estimated that it would take the department two to four weeks to provide the requested records.
In a phone conversation on Oct. 10, Allen told the MDN reporter that he did have some of the records and that he would deliver those documents to MDN and to The Associated Press by Oct. 12.
But Allen never delivered the promised documents to either news outlet. He has not returned repeated phone messages left by Missouri Digital News since Oct. 10.
An MDN reporter went to Allen's Jefferson City office Wednesday, Oct. 17, and waited for more than two hours to see the state attorney in person and get the requested records. Allen did not come to see the reporter and his staff said that he was in meetings throughout the afternoon. Late in the afternoon, Woelfel came to Allen's office to talk to the reporter.
Woelfel said the department is still working on the open records' requests about the program. She said the records number "several hundred pages."
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.