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Bevin Wants To Drug Test Welfare Recipients — But With Limits

J. Tyler Franklin

Republican candidate for governor Matt Bevin said again this week that some recipients of welfare benefits should be tested for drugs as a condition of receiving public assistance.

In an interview with WFPL News, Bevin said he would support legislation to begin randomly drug testing certain recipients of federal assistance for food and other goods because it’s in their own best interest to stay off drugs.

“If we’re going to randomly drug test the people that are willing to do jobs to defend the rest of us that others don’t want to do, why in the blazes should we not expect the very same of the people who are the recipients of the public dollars?” Bevin said, referring to the U.S. military.

But he said such a policy should have limits, both to protect children of low-income families and to make such a program cost-effective.

There are 13 states that already drug test welfare recipients, most recently Arkansas and Wisconsin. The policy has been proposed in the Kentucky legislature several times in recent years, with 64 members of the 100-person, Democrat-led House cosponsoring a bill in 2012.

That bill, proposed by former Lancaster Republican Rep. Lonnie Napier, would have introduced random drug testing of welfare recipients. Those who failed a drug test would have been given 60 days to clear drugs from their system before a second test was administered. Those who failed the second test would have been given 14 days to enroll in drug treatment or else lose access to the assistance.

Although that legislation had strong support among legislators, it was voted down in the House's Health and Welfare committee.

Bevin said that before implementing such a policy, the state should examine the “ripple effect” of taking away benefits from some recipients, especially children.

“I’m not looking to take benefits away from children. I’m looking to taking it away from those who could be responsible but choose not to be,” Bevin said.

He also said drug testing every recipient of federal assistance isn't economically feasible. He did not explain how he would determine which recipients to randomly test for drugs.

Federal law prohibits states from drug testing as a condition of receiving unemployment insurance or food stamps. But states can still target federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds, which provide money for food, shelter, utilities and other expenses.

Michael Aldridge, executive director of ACLU Kentucky, said drug testing recipients of federal assistance unfairly targets the poor.

“Why would we scapegoat poor people? Others who receive government assistance are not subjected to these kinds of tests,” Aldridge said, pointing to executives of banks who were not drug tested as a condition of receiving federal government bailouts during the recession.

Wisconsin's legislature this year voted to drug test as a condition of receiving food stamps, which is forbidden by federal law. The state is suing the federal government over the issue.

In 2011, a federal court overturned Florida’s program -- which required drug testing of all welfare recipients -- ruling it unreasonable search and seizure and therefore unconstitutional.

In Tennessee, welfare recipients are required to answer a survey about drug use and are only tested if they say they’ve used drugs.

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