RICH JAMES: What welfare recipient can afford drug treatment?

2013-03-06T00:00:00Z 2013-03-09T20:16:10Z RICH JAMES: What welfare recipient can afford drug treatment?By Rich James nwitimes.com
March 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Talk about a loaded question.

You will find it in the constituent survey mailed out by new state Rep. Hal Slager, a Schererville Republican.

The question is this: Do you believe Indiana, like other states, should implement random drug testing as a requirement to receiving state-funded welfare benefits?

The phrase “like other states” pretty well tells you Slager believes in drug testing and wants his constituents to do so as well.

And not surprisingly, there is a bill in the Legislature to do what Slager is suggesting.

The bill would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to complete a written screening test for possible drug abuse problems.

Those identified as possible drug abusers would have to undergo a drug test. Those who fail would have to take part in a treatment program and pass later drug tests to continue receiving benefit payments.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jud McMillin, a Republican from Brookville, a town like Mayberry that is worlds apart from the streets of Gary.

This approach to drug abuse has been proposed before. And the same question remains: Is the intent to help people with drug problems or to throw drug abusers out of the welfare program?

I guess it depends on whom you ask.

There’s no question that there are a good number of drug abusers among those receiving welfare. Just check the street corners on the day welfare checks come out.

While I certainly can’t condone it, perhaps they use drugs as a crutch to cope with life.

There are very few jobs, especially for the uneducated. And hope for them is a pretty empty word.

My concern is the drug treatment programs or lack thereof.

Mark Fairchild, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers’ Indiana chapter, told a House committee that many drug abusers need intensive detox programs that can have long-term costs of as much as $10,000.

He added that free programs are much less effective.

I can’t imagine there are many drug-addicted welfare recipients with the financial wherewithal to pay for a top-shelf drug treatment program.

And I can’t envision the Republican-controlled General Assembly paying for treatment programs for drug-addicted welfare recipients living in the state’s urban core.

Some people just can’t shake drugs.

Ask anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking.

The premise of McMillin’s legislation is good in that it seeks to get people off drugs.

But to throw someone out of a welfare program because they can’t beat their addiction is inhumane.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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