Welfare drug testing law limits how officials can help others, some say

Officials with Oklahoma's Department of Human Services say a new law requiring drug testing for welfare applicants limits the kind of help they can provide.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: February 9, 2013

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.

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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