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Move to drug-test welfare recipients scaled back

INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers dramatically scaled back a move to drug-test welfare recipients Wednesday.

House Bill 1351 now would affect only Hoosiers with a misdemeanor drug conviction in the last 10 years. They would be drug-tested when they apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and annually while on the program.

Those with felony drug convictions are already ineligible for TANF.

The bill passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee by a vote of 6-3.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, brought the amendment to the legislation, which largely gutted the bill.

In its original form, everyone on the program would take a written assessment test meant to gauge the likelihood of using illegal drugs. Those identified by that test would then be tested for drug use.

Fiscal analysis showed it could cost the state millions to implement such a drug-testing program, with limited savings.

It is unclear what the fiscal effect to the state would be after the amendment.

In December, about 22,700 Hoosiers received TANF, the majority of whom – about 18,500 – are children.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she still expects a substantial cost and the bill might have to be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers this year have punted any bills that would open up the state budget by spending money.

Young told the committee those who test positive twice will lose benefits for three months. If that happens, another adult can be designated to receive the benefits on behalf of any children involved.

And he said repeatedly that if the person is in a drug rehab program they can continue to receive the cash benefits.

“People do have problems with drugs. It overwhelms their lives,” Young said. “We let them know where they can get help.”

Under the bill, the state doesn’t assist in paying for the treatment.

“This targets poor people,” said Sen. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington.

He noted other states that have drug-tested welfare recipients found a 3 percent positive rate. This compares to 9 percent of the average population using drugs, he said.

“I don’t understand why if we are going to focus on drug testing people who get public assistance, why not look at business incentives, too?”

Separate language in the bill that would have limited food stamps to only healthy food was removed.

Instead, the bill now says Hoosiers that receive TANF cash can’t use that money on any food or beverage item that isn’t eligible to be purchased with food stamps. For example, food stamps can’t be used to buy hot foods or alcohol.

Both food stamps and cash welfare are put on an electronic benefits card.

Sen. Greg Taylor, R-Indianapolis, said people can simply withdraw their TANF cash from an ATM and use it to buy whatever they want.

nkelly@jg.net

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