After she's spent almost 40 years at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, you might expect Linda Hughes to be burned out.
Ask Hughes if she likes her job and she'll tell you why she loves it.
But ask Hughes about a recent law that changed Oklahoma's welfare program and her tone might change.
House Bill 2388, which passed during last year's session, blocks people from qualifying for welfare money if they test positive for drugs.
Hughes, a program manager for the welfare program, said the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is set up to help people find jobs, technology education, or other opportunities to better themselves. But the new lawlimits that, she said.
“My opinion with substance abuse is — that's a huge barrier (to employment). If you've got a problem, you can't just send somebody right back out on the street,” Hughes said. “Sometimes it takes five times before they ever make a change.”
House Bill 2388, which took effect in November, declares welfare applicants who test positive for drugs are ineligible for services through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Before the law passed, residents were screened for substance abuse when they applied for TANF. They might undergo further testing. If a urine analysis came up positive, they could receive a treatment plan.
Under the new law, the process is the same, except a positive urine test removes them from TANF with no help from a DHS worker.
Proponents of the bill say drug testing TANF recipients ensures that taxpayer money is going to people worthy of receiving it.
Sen. David Holt, the bill's primary author in the Oklahoma Senate, said HB 2388 came from a place of expecting more from people applying for TANF.
Holt said the new law asks the “bare minimum” of TANF recipients — that they not use illegal drugs.
“The T in TANF stands for ‘temporary,'” Holt said. “This is, by nature, a temporary program where your friends and neighbors in the state of Oklahoma are helping you get back on your feet, and if you on illegal drugs, it is highly unlikely that this temporary assistance is going to be successful in getting you back on your feet.”
Florida was among several states that made national headlines when the state passed a law requiring all TANF applicants to be drug tested. Holt said the original version of HB 2388 was similar to Florida's bill, but revised to something he thought would stand up in court.
Because the law went into effect only a few months ago, only preliminary data is available thus far regarding its cost or how many people have not deemed ineligible for TANF.
Pamela Shanklin, a programs field representative at DHS, said between November and December, six adults either weren't eligible or lost their TANF benefits because of illegal drug use.
In the 2011 fiscal year, 560 state TANF recipients had a urine analysis and received drug treatment. A total of 2,661 clients had urine analysis and were not admitted into treatment.
It's difficult to confirm how much money, if any, the law has cost Oklahoma thus far, she said.