CHARLESTON — The State Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow drug testing of welfare recipients if “reasonable suspicion” of substance abuse exists.
According to the bill, reasonable suspicion means that 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 or the applicant has been convicted of a drug-related offense within the five years immediately prior to application for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and whose conviction becomes known as a result of a drug screen.”
In the bill, a “drug screen” is defined as “any analysis regarding substance abuse” conducted by the Department of Health and Human Resources.
If the caseworker determines there is reasonable suspicion, the TANF applicant is required to complete a drug test, a urine analysis, for amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates (codeine and morphine), phencyclidine, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone, propoxyphene and expanded opiates (oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone and oxymorphone).
The bill sets up a sliding scale for offenses. A first offense would result in the applicant completing substance abuse treatment and counseling, while still receiving TANF benefits. A second offense would mean repeating treatment and counseling, while being suspended from TANF benefits. A third offense would mean the applicant’s lifetime suspension from receiving TANF.
SB 6 creates a three-year pilot program, which must begin 60 days after getting federal approval. The program will be administered by DHHR.
Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Chair Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said children’s benefits would be administered by a third party if their parents test positive for drugs a second or third time. Ferns said the program has been done in 13 other states.
“Is the concept to find help for drug users or to feel good about punishing them?” asked Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier.
“It’s to help them,” Ferns replied.
Ferns said it would be up to the Legislature to determine whether to continue the program, based on a Dec. 31 report each year for the next three years.
If passed by the House of Delegates and signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the law would cost $50,000 in the first year and $22,000 in each of the subsequent two years. The fiscal note attached to the bill says those amounts cover only the cost of the drug tests, which would be paid for by DHHR, an estimated cost of $56.50 per test.
Applicants who fail a drug test would be required to pay for their own treatment program.
According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the average TANF benefit in West Virginia is $340 per month, “making paying for substance abuse treatment prohibitively expensive for most TANF recipients.” The Center’s media release said other states with similar programs have run into high costs with low or no savings.
“Reports from Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas and Tennessee all show that their drug testing programs have all failed at identifying any significant number of substance abusers,” the Center’s release said.
The percentage of welfare recipients using drugs is “relatively small,” the Center’s release continued, and consistent with those not receiving welfare.
SB 6, which was studied during the Legislature’s interim sessions, passed the Senate on a 32-2 vote, with Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, voting no. It moves to the House of Delegates.