The West Virginia Senate voted 32-2 Tuesday to establish a three-year statewide pilot program that would provide for the drug screening and testing of applicants for benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.
Senate Bill 6 would establish a process for drug testing applicants if there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. Caseworkers can determine reasonable suspicion through a screening process, or if a person has a drug-related conviction in the five years prior to applying for TANF benefits. Upon determination of reasonable suspicion, the applicant must submit to drug testing.
The bill, which had bipartisan sponsorship and support, would direct those people who fail their initial drug test to complete a substance abuse treatment program and job skills program. Those who fail a second test would lose their TANF benefits for a period of up to a year, and be ordered to complete a second substance abuse treatment and counseling program. Upon an applicant’s third failed drug test, he or she would be permanently terminated from the TANF program.
No dependent child’s ability to participate in the TANF program is affected by a parent’s failure to pass a drug test. Benefits for the child instead would be distributed through a third party.
“I’m proud that today, we were able to do something meaningful to really address West Virginia’s substance abuse problem,” Senate Health Committee Chairman Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said. “This is a compassionate approach to getting people who desperately need treatment the help they need, and it provides an incentive for them to deal with their drug addiction.”
Ferns said the program’s focus is on substance abuse treatment rather than a simple, punitive cutoff of benefits.
“The Senate made solid progress today in tackling our state’s crippling drug addiction problem,” Ferns said. “Getting West Virginians who need help into treatment programs, and providing them support during recovery, is not a partisan issue. We all can support doing what it takes to release the grip this epidemic has on our state.”