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General Assembly

Drug tests of welfare users OK’d

Sails past House; Senate next

– Some Hoosiers receiving cash welfare benefits will be drug-tested and could ultimately lose assistance under a bill passed 78-17 by the Indiana House on Monday.

There was a lengthy debate on House Bill 1483, which now moves to the Senate. All area Republicans supported the measure with Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, opposed.

“There has to be a modicum of individual responsibility and accountability in this process,” said Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, author of the legislation.

He said drug testing is appropriate to determine whether some Hoosiers might be using state assistance to subsidize a drug habit instead.

Democrats, though, said the bill might identify drug users receiving public assistance but doesn’t do anything to help them.

According to the Family and Social Services Administration, more than 28,000 adults and children received $2.3 million worth of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in January.

The bill requires everyone who receives cash assistance to take a written test used nationally to gauge the likelihood of substance abuse problems.

Anyone scoring high on that evaluation will be placed in a testing pool from which the state is required to drug test at least 50 percent of recipients.

If a person tests positive, the recipient is enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program to retain benefits. FSSA will provide a list of treatment options without regard to capacity, openings or cost.

All costs of treatment must be paid by the participant.

Those who do not seek treatment are ineligible for the cash benefits, along with any children for whom they receive benefits on their behalf for three months, but then can reapply.

Those who test positive and demonstrate enrollment in a substance abuse treatment program can continue to receive benefits, but are subject to monthly drug tests. Recipients will have four months to test negative on two consecutive drug tests. Failure to do so results in three months of benefit ineligibility for the recipient and any dependent children.

The written testing tool is said to be 94 percent effective. Its accuracy drops to 84 percent if the Spanish test is used.

The cost of implementation is $1.2 million in its first year with the possibility through positive drug tests that it could save the program money over time.

Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, criticized the written test as a maneuver to try to make drug testing of welfare recipients constitutional.

He pointed out that if it is 94 percent accurate then that puts 6 percent at risk of losing needed assistance through no fault of their own.

And Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, said there are waiting lists for substance abuse treatment in Marion County and other areas.

“This bill is not designed to help people,” she said. “Just to identify them.”

nkelly@jg.net

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