A bill that would require applicants and recipients of the Work First Benefit program to take a drug test was moved to the Health Care Committee in the State Senate last week.
Senate Bill 594, titled Require Drug Testing/Work First Benefits, was filed on April 2 by Senator Jim Davis, for North Carolina’s 50th District.
The drug test would be paid for by the individual tested. If the individual tests negative for controlled substances, the bill says “…the Department shall increase the amount of the initial Work First Program assistance by the amount paid by the applicant or recipient for the drug testing. Any applicant or recipient who tests positive for controlled substances as a result of a drug test required under this section is ineligible to receive Work First Program assistance for one year from the date of the positive drug … .”
According to the bill, the applicant can reapply for public assistance after one year, but, if the individual tests positive on any subsequent drug tests, that person would be ineligible for benefits for three years from the time of the positive test.
A denial in benefits due to a positive drug test can be avoided if the person “… can document the successful completion of a substance abuse treatment program … ,” and successfully pass a drug test after completing the substance abuse program. An applicant or recipient can only reapply for Work First Program assistance after failing a drug test once.
For two-parent families, both parents must pass a drug test and each tested person will be advised to inform the agent administering the test of any prescription or over-the-counter medication the person is taking.
“In principal, I don’t see anything wrong with people who are getting our tax money having to be drug free, ” said State Representative Ken Goodman, of Rockingham. “You have to get drug tested to get most jobs,” he said.
Goodman said lawmakers will need to calculate the overall cost of testing to be provided because “… if we wanted to drug test everyone that applied for Work First Benefits, it would cost the state a lot of money.”
Tammy Schrenker, director of the Richmond County Department of Social Services, said Richmond County doesn’t have a lot of applicants for the Work First Program. “We only have less than 300 cases,” she said. In February, according to Schrenker, there were only 25 applicants.
“Our main concern is that the cost of that (bill) does not get passed on as an unfunded mandate,” she said. “Whatever they do, however they require us to do that, it does not pass that cost on to the county.”
Schrenker said there are a lot of questions that need to be answered such as, how people are going to be able to pay for the drug test and what type of drug test will be required.
State Representative Garland Pierce, for the 48th District, said, “I would hate to think that participants would be given money that they would not give to their children and use that for drug money.” Pierce went on to question how people are going to be able to afford the drug test.
Introduction of the bill has raised questions about the legality of requiring a drug test to receive assistance.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, a drug test is considered a search and “… is therefore subject to the protections set forth in the Fourth Amendment.”
“There is no evidence that the rate of drug use amongst public assistance recipients is higher than the rest of the population,” the ACLU said. The organization also said the average expense associated with drugs tests would be “… $42 per person plus the cost of personnel to administer the tests.”
— Staff Writer Laura Edington can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at email@example.com.