Politics & Government

March 7, 2012

Bill requiring random drug testing for Kansas welfare recipients to go before House panel

Kansans could have to take a urine test before receiving welfare benefits under a bill before a House committee.

Kansans could have to take a urine test before receiving welfare benefits under a bill before a House committee.

A bill that requires random drug testing of one-third of the applicants in the state’s 13,000 welfare cases will have a hearing before the House Health and Human Services committee today.

People who test positive for illegal drugs, such as opiates, amphetamines or marijuana, would be subject to a drug treatment program and continued drug tests. A second positive test would suspend welfare payments for a year and again require a treatment program. A third violation would bar a person from receiving state welfare money.

Testing welfare recipients would ensure that taxpayer money does not go toward those abusing the system, said Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Merriam, sponsor of HB 2686.

“It would add some accountability to those who receive state assistance and ensure that the money is going to those who in my opinion deserve it most,” he said.

An average of 39,000 Kansans, including 24,000 children, depended on monthly welfare, also known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, last year, according to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The state spent $52 million on the program last year.

Those suspended or banned from the welfare system would still be eligible for food stamps or programs like WIC, Hildabrand said. The state would cut off only the applicant’s TANF payments, which can be used to pay rent, electricity bills and water bills.

The Kansas bill is modeled after measures in Florida and Missouri; 25 states have similar legislation pending.

Hildabrand said he believed the bill would save the state money.

But Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, expressed concern that the state would lose money. He cited Florida as a case study.

“The results were that only 2 percent of people on public assistance tested positive for drugs, so it turned out to be unnecessary and insignificant but there was great additional cost for state taxpayers involved,” he said, calling the law “much ado about nothing.”

The Kansas bill would require welfare applicants to pay for their own drug tests. The state would reimburse applicants who tested negative for drugs. Hildabrand said the average drug test would cost $42.

Testing and reimbursing one-third of its applicants would cost the state around $181,000. To break even, the state would have to disqualify 3.2 percent of applicants from at least a year’s worth of welfare payments.

The bill does not outline who would pay for the drug rehabilitation and treatment programs. If the state would pay for such programs, it could cancel out savings from withholding payments. If the state required applicants to pay for the treatment, it could add a financial burden for those on low incomes.

Others worry that such a bill singles out those on welfare as drug users.

“It does send a disturbing message that we are singling out one segment of the population and implying that some people have drug problems and others don’t,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

Davis, who supported a similar bill in the past, said a more fair way of drug testing, though he did not advocate it, would be to test others who receive state funds as well as those receiving welfare.

Hildabrand, who is paid by the state, said he wouldn’t be opposed to taking a drug test but added legislators were in a different situation than those receiving welfare.

“This was an elected position so you are actually working for that money. Receiving assistance, you are not necessarily working for that money — you’re getting assistance,” he said.

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