Politics

West Virginia Rep Wants Drug Tests For Welfare Applicants

| by Nik Bonopartis
Food stamps, like the vintage stamps shown here, have been replaced with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.Food stamps, like the vintage stamps shown here, have been replaced with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

West Virginia may become the latest state to require drug tests for people receiving public assistance.

Delegate Michael Moffatt, a West Virginia state representative, introduced the bill and claims there's an epidemic of drug-abusing welfare recipients in his state.

"We have such a drug abuse issue right now, and so many of our employers are complaining they want to hire people, but people can't pass a drug test. Our people who are getting benefits needs to be able to be able to be ready for work," Moffat, a Republican, told WTRF.com.

If the bill passes, West Virginia would join 13 other states that currently screen applicants or recipients of public assistance. That list includes states like Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Tennessee bill required a system of "suspicion based testing," NCSL says, and Moffatt's plan is similar. It's not clear how the state would determine who qualifies as suspicious.

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The West Virginia bill is aimed at saving taxpayer money, but those opposed to the measure told WTRF that if the goal is to get people off drugs, the money would be better spent on drug rehab programs. The station's report noted that West Virginia's rural areas are underserved when it comes to treatment options.

"Well that money would be better spent on higher touch services within the community extended out to where people are, reaching them and providing them with the education and assistance they need to turn their lives around," sSam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia Chapter of the National Social Workers Association, told WTRF.

Since federal welfare reform was enacted by then-President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1996, federal law allows states to drug test people receiving or applying for public assistance. Although the decision to test is at the discretion of individual states, some state courts have ruled that drug testing every applicant is unconstitutional, according to NCSL.

Testing for welfare recipients is separate from similar plans that test -- or outright ban -- applicants who have been convicted of drug-related felonies.

Sources: WTRF.com, National Conference of State Legislatures / Photo source: Wikimedia Commons