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General Assembly

Amendment dilutes terms for drug tests

Changes affect welfare eligibility

– Lawmakers dramatically scaled back a move Wednesday to test welfare recipients for drug use.

House Bill 1351 now would affect only Hoosiers with a misdemeanor drug conviction in the past 10 years.

They would be tested for drugs when they apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and annually while on the program.

Those with felony drug convictions are already ineligible for the program.

It passed the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee by a 6-3 vote.

Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, brought the amendment, 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 that it could cost the state millions to implement such a drug testing program, with limited savings.

It’s unclear now what the fiscal effect on the state would be with the amendment in place.

In December, about 22,700 Hoosiers received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, including about 18,500 children.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she still expects a substantial cost and that 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 that 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, he or she 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.

Other states that have tested welfare recipients for drug use found a 3 percent positive rate, he said, compared with 9 percent of the average population using drugs.

“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 healthful food was removed.

Instead, the bill now says Hoosiers who receive ANF 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.

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

Sen. Greg Taylor, R-Indianapolis, pointed out that 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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