Maine Governor Wants To Ban Drug Felons From Receiving Welfare Benefits

| by Alexander Rubinstein
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In February, the administration of Maine Governor Paul LePage implemented a mandatory drug-screening assessment for applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program who have prior felony drug convictions. Now, LePage wants to crack down further by prohibiting them from receiving TANF benefits, among other new proposals.

Federal law prohibits those who have been convicted of drug-related felony offenses from receiving welfare, but states can supersede the law. Maine is one such state, but Gov. LePage’s new proposal would change that by barring drug felons from the TANF program, WCSH6 reports.

As of February, those who have been convicted of a drug-related felony within the past 10 years could be tested since such a conviction would constitute reasonable evidence of likely drug use in the eyes of the state. Those who fail the test will lose their benefits if they do not successfully complete a substance use disorder treatment. The proposal would also require all TANF recipients to undergo a screening questionnaire called the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, and those who fail the screening would be required to submit to urinalysis, The Portland Press Herald reports.

“We have long believed that this is an appropriate path to take to ensure that the benefits are being used to support families on their pathway out of poverty and to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

The new bill prohibiting drug felons from receiving TANF benefits, comes only a few months after drug testing began in the state of Maine for some welfare recipients. Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, believes the proposals will face opposition from lawmakers.

“If we want to discourage drug use, there are far better ways to do it," he said. "This bill only further stereotypes and scapegoats the poor."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine also opposes the proposed legislation. Similar efforts have been deemed unconstitutional in Florida. Oamshri Amarasngham, of the ACLU, said that the proposal unfairly discriminates against people on welfare.

“These kinds of programs perpetuate that ugly stereotype that poor people are more likely than others to use drugs," Amarasingham said. "That has not proven to be true."

Sources: WCSH6, Portland Press Herald

Photo Source: Wikipedia, WCSH6