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N.C.'s Drug Testing Policy For Welfare Recipients May Be Costing The State Money

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A law that requires certain welfare applicants in North Carolina to undergo drug testing in order to receive benefits appears to be costing the state more than it's worth.

In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers passed a measure mandating drug tests for applicants to Work First, the state's assistance program for needy families, who showed signs of drug use in an initial screening or who had been convicted of drug-related felonies within the past three years, WRAL reported.

The program was initially vetoed by the state's governor, Pat McCrory, who said it was unnecessarily invasive and that the state did not have the money to fund it anyway, according to Fox 32. However, the legislature overrode his veto, and the program was funded in 2014.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the percentage of applicants referred to drug testing since the program's implementation in August 2015 is very small.

Out of a total of 7,600 cases reviewed between August 2015 and December 2015, only about 150 applicants were required to undergo a drug test, WRAL reported. Of those, 70 failed to show up and only 21 -- about 14 percent of those referred -- tested positive.

The findings were presented to a General Assembly committee on Feb. 9, according to Fox 32.

Even if the 70 people who skipped the appointment had all tested positive, the total number of positives -- 91 -- would constitute less than 1 percent of all reviewed applicants, WRAL noted.

According to Wayne Black, the director of the state's Division of Social Services, the law also does not deter people from applying for Work First benefits. The number of applications to the program has reportedly increased after the drug testing was implemented, compared to the five months preceding implementation.

"We do not believe drug testing has had a negative effect," he told the committee, according to WRAL.

The urine test, which checks for a variety of illegal drugs including marijuana and cocaine, costs $55 per sample. The program has so far cost the state a total of $4,900.

Black explained that those who refused to take the test or tested positive for drugs can still access Work First benefits, but will receive a reduced amount. Applicants who test positive may also seek treatment and then pass a second drug test after 30 days in order to receive full benefits. However, they must pay the cost of this second test themselves.

"It’s an important program for us, most importantly because we’re referring these individuals for treatment, and that’s when we’ll really determine the success of this program," Black said.

Some of the state's legislators, however, disagree.

"They found very few applicants," said Democratic Sen. Gladys Robinson, who has opposed the law since the beginning. "Plus, the process is already in place in terms of asking questions and making those referrals. So we just wasted state dollars, in terms of that piece of legislation and in terms of the time and staff all across the state."

At least 13 U.S. states have passed legislation mandating drug tests for public assistance applicants or recipients as of July 2015, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sources: WRAL, Fox 32, National Conference of State Legislatures / Photo Credit: WRAL

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