Bill to drug test welfare recipients passes

House Bill 1351, which passed the Senate 34-14 Tuesday, calls for individuals with prior drug convictions who receive benefits from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to be tested at random.

Those who do not pass drug tests two consecutive times would lose their benefits for three months before being allowed to try again.

“Drugs control their lives once they get addicted,” bill sponsor Sen. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, said in the final debate Tuesday. “We are only seeking to try to get people help. Sometimes it is baby steps that lead to dollars down the road that can help these people.”

Opponents of the legislation have argued it would be expensive to implement and could have limited influence on deterring drug abuse.

“The real abuse in families comes from alcohol, from heroin, from meth, and all those things are out of your system within a couple of days,” Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said. “The only people who you’re going to catch are the people who have marijuana in their system.”

Although the annual costs associated with a TANF drug test program would be minimal — Young said it costs about $110,000 for Monroe County to
implement a much larger drug testing program — the start-up costs could be significant, but they are not known at this time. Young said it could cost about $500,000 to implement, but Tallian said it could cost up to $1 million.

The bill would allow TANF recipients who lose their benefits to appoint trustees to receive benefits for their children.

Because children make up the majority of TANF beneficiaries in Indiana, the number of adult recipients who could be affected by drug screenings is unknown.

“Has anyone ever done a survey to find out how many people have criminal convictions?” Tallian said. “You could send the interns out to look that up, but we don’t know that. We have no idea whether it’s 400 people, 10 people or all 4,000 of them.”
The bill was passed by the House of Representatives earlier in the legislative session, but because amendments were added in the Senate, a conference committee will have to work through differences. Most of those are details surrounding who would be eligible for a random drug test.

But Young said the purpose of the legislation is to encourage drug-addicted welfare recipients to seek help and, more importantly, to ensure their children are cared for and receive the benefits they need.

“Coming from a family of nine kids and two parents and having an addiction problem in our family, I can tell you what it means to kids,” Young said. “I know what it means to kids to have someone addicted in your family.”

Follow reporter Michael Auslen on Twitter @MichaelAuslen.

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