2014 Indiana General Assembly

House GOP wants drug tests for welfare recipients, despite cost

2014-01-10T18:15:00Z 2014-04-04T15:18:08Z House GOP wants drug tests for welfare recipients, despite costDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
January 10, 2014 6:15 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana is poised to take another spin on the welfare drug testing merry-go-round, even though the program's cost will significantly exceed the savings gained from positive tests and a federal judge last month ruled a similar Florida law unconstitutional.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he was happy to "enthusiastically endorse" legislation set to be filed Monday by state Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, that Bosma described as "entitlement reform through drug testing."

This will be McMillin's fourth attempt to subject the state's 27,000 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits — mostly single mothers with children — to mandatory drug testing as a condition of receiving cash assistance.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate separately approved his 2013 proposal, but it died in a conference committee tasked with resolving the two versions. It would have spent more than $3 million to implement drug testing, with the state getting back only $215,000 from positive tests, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

TANF recipients are among the very poorest Hoosiers. A two-person family, such as a mother and child, must earn less than $5,661 a year and have less than $1,000 in assets to qualify for TANF.

The average per person monthly TANF payment is about $85, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The state pays just one-third of the approximately $25 million provided annually to Hoosier TANF recipients. The federal government pays the rest.

Bosma said drug testing of TANF recipients is needed to "ensure public money is being used for the purpose intended and not for other purposes."

He cited no evidence that TANF beneficiaries use illegal drugs more often than the general public. In the four months that Florida's drug testing program was running, before being halted by court order, fewer than 3 percent of tests were positive.

Bosma scoffed at the idea that he, as a recipient of a state government paycheck, also should be required to be drug tested.

"If I looked like I wasn't giving a full day's work for that, perhaps," Bosma said.

When asked directly if he considered the many things mothers do, including low-income mothers receiving TANF payments, to be work worthy of state support, Bosma said no.

"They're not working for those funds," Bosma said.

Spreading of the idea to drug test welfare recipients originated at a conference sponsored by the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that writes model legislation on hundreds of issues for state lawmakers to adopt. About 30 state legislatures considered welfare drug testing proposals last year.

At least 50 of the 106 Republican members of the Indiana House and Senate are ALEC members. Republican Gov. Mike Pence was the keynote speaker at  ALEC's December policy summit.

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