Oklahoma bill requiring drug testing of welfare recipients passes House panel

BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: February 21, 2012
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Adults receiving welfare assistance would have to undergo a drug test under a measure approved Monday by a legislative panel.

A House of Representatives budget subcommittee on human services passed House Bill 2388. The measure, which passed 6-2, now goes to the full House.

HB 2388 would require adults applying for welfare assistance to be tested before they could receive money through the federal cash-assistance Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Recipients receive debit cards and can use the money how they best see fit.

Rep. Guy Liebmann, the bill's main author, said it is similar to a measure passed and signed into law last year in Florida that has been challenged in federal court. The purpose of the bill is to stop government money going to people who spend it on illegal drugs, he said.

Oklahoma's Department of Human Services screens clients for drug and alcohol abuse and requires testing if the screening indicates it is necessary, said Sandra Harrison, the agency's chief administrative officer. Those who test positive are sent for treatment but are allowed to receive the benefit, she said; the assistance is taken away if the recipient stops going to work or school.

“You can't sit at home,” she said.

State would need

federal waivers

About 5,000 adults get assistance from the program, Harrison said. About 20,000 children receive the assistance. Of the 5,000 adults, about 3,000 are screened for drugs; about 5 percent test positive.

There are no provisions in federal law to require drug testing as a condition of eligibility for the majority of DHS programs, nor is there a federal provision in law to deny benefits as a result of a positive drug test. DHS would need to obtain waivers from the federal government before implementing any state legislated requirement for drug testing as a condition of eligibility, according to a memorandum from the agency's family support services division.

Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, said his bill would require testing for 10 drugs instead of the five that DHS screens for now, and the test would be more thorough.

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