Sunday, August 31, 2014

Drug tests aimed at welfare recipients should help, not hurt

5/1/2013

Drug testing for Kansas recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and unemployment payments will become the law of the land beginning Jan. 1, 2014, following the passage of Kansas Senate Bill 149. The legislation, which was sponsored by state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, included language that those people on public assistance who test positive for drugs would be required to complete drug addiction treatment and job skills training before receiving additional payments.

The program reportedly will avoid hurting the children of public assistance recipients by still allowing payments to go to a non-drug-using third party to assist children in need. Those recipients failing a second drug test would be denied benefits for one year and required to undertake additional drug testing and job skills training. Those failing a drug test for a third time would permanently be barred from receiving TANF benefits.

Drug testing for Kansas recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and unemployment payments will become the law of the land beginning Jan. 1, 2014, following the passage of Kansas Senate Bill 149. The legislation, which was sponsored by state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, included language that those people on public assistance who test positive for drugs would be required to complete drug addiction treatment and job skills training before receiving additional payments.

The program reportedly will avoid hurting the children of public assistance recipients by still allowing payments to go to a non-drug-using third party to assist children in need. Those recipients failing a second drug test would be denied benefits for one year and required to undertake additional drug testing and job skills training. Those failing a drug test for a third time would permanently be barred from receiving TANF benefits.

This program is intended to be a hand up, rather than a handout — and that might well be what is accomplished.

Neosho County Community College is one of the beneficiaries of the bill since it provides Partners in Change, a job skills training program that is a model for SB 149.

More than 300 people in Southeast Kansas have been helped by the program according to Brian Inbody, Neosho president. The program, which costs $750 per participant, has a 72-percent completion and/or employment success rate. Those are strong numbers that should make a difference in improving the lives of people most in need of help.

With just 4.1 percent of people nationally receiving welfare benefits, this program quickly can pay for itself if it helps people kick their addictions and learn the skills to make them employable and able to give back to their families and communities. If those numbers hold true in Franklin County, it could assist a portion of the estimated 1,000 people receiving welfare benefits here. Clearly, everyone on welfare doesn’t use drugs so the ripple effect of this legislation might be imperceptible initially.

Of course, no program comes without a cost. The price tag for the drug treatment program is covered completely by federal Medicaid and TANF funds, which are paid for by taxpayers.

The public’s opinion on the legislation varies depending on the individuals’ vantage point. We hope the legislation accomplishes its intended goal so no recipients are unnecessarily singled out merely for receiving public assistance without having a reasonable suspicion that they are using illegal substances. To do otherwise would be morally inexcusable.

— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher

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