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Shutterstock, Monkey Business Images
Shutterstock, Monkey Business Images
Shutterstock, Monkey Business Images

Opponent of TANF drug testing legislation says other states have shown it’s not productive

By Shauna Johnson

A Wayne County delegate predicts West Virginia will soon join the list of states where legislation requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients, in cases where there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, proves to be unproductive.

Delegate Don Perdue (D-Wayne, 19)

“We’re taking the poorest of the poor who are actually trying to get up out of that hole and we’re saying, ‘Hey guys, we really don’t trust you,’” said Delegate Don Perdue (R-Wayne, 19) during an appearance on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The legislation creates a three-year pilot program for the screening of recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also called TANF.

As written in SB 6, which Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law earlier this month, the “reasonable suspicion” required for drug testing exists in the following circumstances:

– A case worker determines, based upon the result of the drug screen, that the applicant demonstrates qualities indicative of substance abuse based upon the indicators of the drug screen

– An applicant has been convicted of a drug-related offense within the three years immediately prior to an application for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program and whose conviction becomes known as a result of a drug screen.

Federal courts have found programs in Florida and Michigan, which required testing of all applicants without a “reasonable suspicion” requirement, unconstitutional.

The presentation of a valid prescription for a detected substance that is prescribed by a health care provider is an “absolute defense” for failure of any drug test administered, as the law reads.

“We’ve got to stop the cycle of drug addiction and the abuses that go along with it,” Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley, 15), a supporter of the legislation, previously said.

Approval from the federal government is required before the West Virginia law can be implemented.

With it, an applicant who fails a drug test on the first offense will maintain benefits, but will be required to enroll in a drug treatment program or job training program. On the second offense, the applicant has the potential to lose benefits for up to 12 months while completing the same programs. The third offense calls for a loss of benefits for life.

“In the states where they’ve done that, they have not had the effects they expected to have, so they have not proven to be productive,” Perdue said.

According to a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, Kansas received 2,783 applications for TANF benefits from July 2014 to December 2014. Of those, 65 applicants were referred to follow-up drug testing and 11 applicants tested positive at an estimated cost of $11,000.

In Missouri, more than $336,000 was budgeted in 2014. In all, upwards of 38,970 applicants were initially screened and, after follow-ups, 48 tested positive for drug usage.

On Monday, a TANF testing law in Arkansas took effect. With it, an applicant will be asked about drug usage and, if that yields “reasonable suspicion,” the applicant will be required to submit to a drug test or lose TANF benefits for six months.

Like West Virginia’s legislation, there are treatment options within the Arkansas law.

Under West Virginia’s law, costs of administering drug tests and initial substance abuse testing programs fall to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. The total possible costs were not immediately clear.

Perdue argued the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“Folks on TANF are no more likely to be substance abusers than anybody else, any other portion of society,” he said.

“Our efforts, rather than spending a lot of money on a pilot program for a given group of individuals whose only real criteria for being there is they’re poor, is why aren’t we looking at the whole of our society in terms of providing the services that need to be provided?”

If a parent is deemed ineligible for TANF due to drug test failures, a dependent child’s eligibility will not be affected. Instead, an “appropriate protective payee” will have to be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.

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