Arkansas has implemented a new drug testing program for state welfare recipients.
Under the new requirements, those who receive benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Transitional Employment Assistance may be subjected to a drug test. If they test positive, they must undergo a treatment program.
The new welfare requirements were enacted when the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 1205 in 2015. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the bill into law and has defended the price tag of the program, which is estimated to cost between $1.45 and $1.7 million, Arkansas News reports.
“The ... objective for TANF or other welfare recipients is to identify those that are drug dependent, get them into treatment -- not cut of benefits -- get them into treatment and get them back to being productive and working and create work opportunities,” Hutchinson said.
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The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services began enforcing a pilot program in April. Not all applicants for TANF and TEA will be asked to take a drug test. Instead, applications for benefits now include two questions.
The question first is whether or not the applicant has ever been involved in illegal drug use, the second asking whether or not the applicant has ever had their employment terminated due to drug use.
Applicants who answer “yes” to either question will be required to take a urine sample drug test. If they refuse, they will be barred from receiving benefits for six months. If they comply and test positive for illegal drugs, they will still receive benefits but be required to enroll in a treatment program.
If the welfare recipient declines to participate in a treatment program, they will have their benefits suspended for six months. If they test positive for drug use after treatment, they will again be suspended for six months.
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If an adult with dependents who receives TANF benefits is suspended from the program, those welfare benefits will be given to a family member so the children remain provided for.
Ellie Wheeler, senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, slammed the new program, deeming it ineffective and costly: “On the surface it sounds like it would be helping people, or you'd be helping people with their drug abuse problems, but the reality is so few people are actually identified.”
Hutchinson has stated that even if the program is ultimately not cost effective, it will be worth the trouble.
“The objective is not always about savings,” Hutchinson said. “It’s also about reducing drug dependency.”
Democratic state Rep. Camille Bennett of Lonoke has criticized the new program for “adding complexity and confusion to an already complex and confusing program and we’re accomplishing nothing," WREG reports.
Harding University student Whitney McDonald asserted that the drug testing requirement was a waste of money that could be used for more helpful programs.
“Only about 5 percent of welfare recipients test positive for drugs,” McDonald told The Bison, a student publication at Harding University. “So the amount of money that goes to specifically testing welfare recipients is money that can be used on so many other programs. That money could actually make a difference.”
Republican state Sen. Blake Johnson of Corning, who sponsored the bill, admitted that applicants could simply lie about their drug use, but added, “You can’t legislate morality.”