The Capitol Record

Legislation would add drug testing for welfare clients

Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug testing in order to receive benefits.

Under the proposal, applicants would be required to take a drug test before receiving benefits if a state-administered assessment confirms a “reasonable likelihood” that he or she has a substance use disorder.

“The goal is to be able to feed the family and not feed the drug habit,” said Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), who is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1190.

People who test positive would have their cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program cut up to 40 percent and be required to get into drug treatment programs and stay clean. If a person refuses to comply, their benefits would be completely cut off after four months.

Angel said current TANF rules are confusing, making it easy for people who misuse state benefits to slip through the cracks.

“We have got to get a handle on the system we have. Right now, there is a real lack of clarity,” she said

Similar legislation has been proposed in other states with varying degrees of success. A Florida law that created a drug testing requirement ended up costing the state money after Republican backers touted it as a cost-saving measure. The law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in October.

Angel said she modeled her bill after legislation passed last year in Utah, where welfare applicants must now take an online drug-screening survey to determine whether they are likely substance abusers.

The bill is not expected to get a hearing in the House, but a companion bill (Senate Bill 5585) is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

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