West Virginia Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Require Drug Testing For Some Welfare Recipients

| by Jared Keever
West Virginia LawmakersWest Virginia Lawmakers

State lawmakers in West Virginia introduced a bill on Nov. 16 that, if passed, would mandate drug testing for welfare recipients. 

“We don’t want taxpayers’ money being used to support people’s habits,” Republican Delegate Joe Ellington told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

Ellington, who heads up the House Department of Health and Human Resources committee, acknowledged that the plan is controversial.

“We're not trying to hurt anyone, we're trying to help,” he told WSAZ News. “We're trying to target a smaller population, a key population that has a history of drug use.”

As proposed, the law would not require that all recipients be tested for drugs. The DHHR would have to have “reasonable suspicion” that a person was abusing drugs prior to requiring the test. 

That could be established, according to the Gazette-Mail, if the applicant shows “qualities indicative of substance abuse,” or if the applicant has a drug-related conviction within the last five years, or if the person has a baby that tests positive for controlled substances within five days after birth. 

Drug treatment would be required for the person who fails a test. Consequences increase on subsequent failed tests, including suspension from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, program for one year and eventual termination from the program after a third failed test. 

The recipient would be responsible for the cost of the test. It would be deducted from the applicant’s first TANF payment. Should the test come back negative, the cost would be refunded.

Ellington told WSAZ that he expected the tests to be a “minor cost.”

A February story from ThinkProgress suggests that those minor costs can add up, and have very little return. 

According to analysis of information from seven states with similar programs, those states collectively spent nearly $1 million administering drug tests and found that the rate of drug use among welfare recipients was lower than the national drug use rate of 9.4 percent. 

ThinkProgress looked at data from Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. They found drug use rates among welfare recipients ranging from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent with all but one state coming in under 1 percent.

Sources: Charleston Gazette-Mail, WSAZ News, ThinkProgress

Photo credit: WSAZ News