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Bill Requiring Drug Tests for Parents to Receive Public Assistance Awaits Governor’s Signature

Perry Bennett
WV Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Legislature has passed a bill today that would require low-income parents get drug tested in order to receive public assistance.

With recent approval from the House, West Virginia’s senators passed Senate Bill 387 along party lines. It now heads to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk.

Low-income parents can apply for cash assistance for themselves and their children through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. The federal program provides monthly checks to families.

Senate Bill 387 would require applicants to have an initial drug test. If an applicant tests positive for anything from opioids to marijuana, that triggers a requirement to enter drug treatment or counseling, or else lose benefits.

The Department of Health and Human Resources has been testing TANF applicants for three years under a pilot program. The bill would extend the process until the end of 2026.

Republicans have said the practice helps get those with substance use disorder in treatment.

The Department of Human Resources reports that only one of the roughly 130 pilot applicants that failed a drug test ended up getting treatment through the program. But Republican Sen. Michael Maroney of Marshall County, who sponsored the bill, has said many more sought treatment outside of the DHHR program, according to Medicaid claims data.

Democrats have said the bill deters those in need from receiving benefits for themselves and their dependents.

As of December there were 6,000 TANF recipients in West Virginia. Of those, 75 percent are children.

Two bills filed this session by Democrats, one in the House and one in the Senate, would have required legislators to be drug-tested, or forgo their legislative salary. Neither bill made it to their respective chamber floor.

Appalachia Health News Reporter, jleffler@wvpublic.org, 502-377-0438, @june_leffler

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