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Lawmaker trying again to create drug testing program for welfare recipients

TIFFANY L. PARKS
Special to the Legal News

Published: September 20, 2013

Having previously described the aims of the bill as “compassionate,” Sen. Tim Schaffer has reintroduced a measure into the Ohio General Assembly that would establish a drug testing pilot program for Ohio Works First.

Senate Bill 182 would require the director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to institute the program for applicants of cash, medical, housing, food or energy assistance through Ohio Works First.

Schaffer, R-Lancaster, previously pushed for the creation of the pilot program through Senate Bill 69 in the last legislature and Senate Bill 178 in the 128th General Assembly.

“Implementing this bill is the compassionate thing to do,” Schaffer said. “It will fight to end the cycle of poverty by referring the drug users to treatment and providing safety for children. This bill is in the interest of protecting children and making sure they, our most innocent citizens, get the help they need.”

Under the program, an individual applying for cash assistance would be required to complete an assessment.

Schaffer said if the assessment showed reasonable cause or suspicion that the applicant is using drugs the applicant would then be required to take a drug test.

Applicants would be responsible for the cost of the drug test. Individuals would be reimbursed for negative tests.

Schaffer noted that in 1996 the federal government passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, also known as welfare reform.

“This act includes a provision which states: ‘Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, states shall not be prohibited by the federal government from testing welfare recipients for use of controlled substances nor from sanctioning welfare recipients who test positive for use of controlled substances,’” he said, adding that his bill “provides a tool to identify serious problems before they become catastrophes.”

“By instituting a drug testing program, this pilot program will reinforce the integrity of Ohio Works First by ensuring a level of personal responsibility and instilling confidence for employers who wish to hire those attempting to come off of public assistance.”

The lawmaker noted language in the bill that provides for a protective payee to ensure that children of drug users would still receive their benefits despite their parent’s denial.

“So not only are those children not being denied their benefits, but those children would also be assured that their parent’s drug abuse is not diverting the state’s funds that they need and that we are not ignoring the problem until it gets out of control,” Schaffer said.

SB 182 calls for a $100,000 appropriation for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

“We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to this problem,” Schaffer said. “This is a difficult issue largely in part because there is no hard data. That is why we have chosen to do a pilot program that will provide us with the information necessary to further the public debate and improve our public assistance programs.”

As he researched the issue with interested parties, Schaffer said he became increasingly convinced that the proposed legislation could help Ohioans “break the cycle of drug-induced poverty.”

“It inherently has a deterrent affect as well as the obvious awareness factor. It addresses a problem in our families before it becomes a catastrophic problem,” he said. “The need for treatment will be there with or without this bill. The question is not if there is a need, but are we going to address this need or are we going to continue to pretend that it does not exist.”

If the bill is signed into law, the director would have to launch the program no later than 90 days after the bill’s effective date.

The pilot program would be operated for two years in three counties selected by the director.

SB 182 is co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Hughes, Randy Gardner, Kris Jordan, Joe Uecker, and Dave Burke.

The bill is awaiting a committee assignment.

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