2014 Indiana General Assembly

Senate panel limits welfare drug test plan

2014-02-19T18:15:00Z 2014-02-20T09:16:06Z Senate panel limits welfare drug test planDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
February 19, 2014 6:15 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | A legislative proposal requiring drug tests for some Indiana welfare recipients was dramatically scaled back Wednesday by a Senate committee due to concerns about cost and effectiveness.

House Bill 1351, which would have subjected the state's 27,000 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to mandatory drug testing as a condition of receiving cash assistance that averages $85 a month, was changed to require drug tests only for TANF recipients with a prior drug-related criminal conviction.

State Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, the sponsor of the legislation, said the goal remains the same: to encourage Hoosiers with drug problems to get the assistance they need.

Under the plan, TANF recipients with a prior drug conviction who twice test positive for drugs would lose their benefit unless they enroll in a drug treatment program.

However, state Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington, pointed out there are few low-cost drug treatment programs, and TANF recipients — typically a mother and child — are among the poorest Hoosiers.

A two-person family must earn less than $5,661 a year and have less than $1,000 in assets to qualify for TANF.

In addition, similar drug testing programs in other states — now halted after federal courts ruled them unconstitutional — found welfare recipients use drugs less than the general population, Stoops said.

An estimated cost for the revised proposal is not yet available. The Senate Health Committee voted 6-3 to send the measure to the Appropriations Committee for a cost-benefit review.

The House-approved proposal would have required the state spend up to $1.1 million in the first year to recoup up to $315,000 from positive drug tests, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

State Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, the House sponsor, said he's concerned that limiting drug testing to those with a prior drug conviction might involve so few people as to be not worth doing.

In general, only misdemeanor drug convictions would count toward the proposed drug testing mandate, since federal law bars a person convicted of a felony drug crime from receiving TANF for 10 years.

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