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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

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.

Expecting more

Proponents of the bill say drug testing TANF recipients ensures that taxpayer money is going to people worthy of receiving it.

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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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