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Senate Will Vote to Drug Test Welfare Recipients

Martin Valent
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Sen. Ryan Ferns is the lead sponsor of a bill that creates a pilot program to drug test people who receive public assistance.

Updated 2/9/2016: The West Virginia Senate approved a three-year pilot drug testing program, 32-2. For more, click here.

Original story:

 Members of the West Virginia Senate are set to vote on a bill to drug test the recipients of public assistance. 

Senate Bill 6 creates a three-year pilot program to drug test recipients of TANF benefits. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Sen. Ryan Ferns said the bill requires employees of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources prove reasonable suspicion before drug testing a TANF recipient, which comes in two forms.

The first, recipients convicted of a drug-related offense in the last five years will be required to take a drug test. The second Ferns described as anyone who gives the impression they may be using an illegal drug or abusing a controlled substance. 

The bill sets out a three-strike system:

  • Strike One: no loss of benefits, requires recipient to enter rehabilitative and workforce training programs
  • Strike Two: loss of benefits for 12 months or until a rehabilitation or workforce training program has been completed, whichever is shorter
  • Strike Three: loss of benefits for life.

Benefits, however, will not be taken from dependent children in the home. Ferns says the bill requires the DHHR to find another qualified adult in their lives to take over distribution of child benefits, something he says the state already does in other cases.
“The drug epidemic has been increasingly harmful to our state," Ferns said Monday. "It’s getting worse and worse all the time and we are looking at any possible way that we can assist individuals who need help and get them help.”

Those opposed to the bill maintain the screening process will allow for discrimination against minority and low-income West Virginians.

THe DHHR reports 3,536 individuals received TANF benefits in West Virginia in December 2015. 

The agency estimates the program will cost the state about $50,000 for its initial implementation and about $22,000 each year after.

Senators will vote on Senate Bill 6 Tuesday.

Ashton Marra covers the Capitol for West Virginia Public Radio and can be heard weekdays on West Virginia Morning, the station’s daily radio news program. Ashton can also be heard Sunday evenings as she brings you state headlines during NPR’s weekend edition of All Things Considered. She joined the news team in October of 2012.

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