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Welfare Drug Screening

Following the lead of several other states, we enacted our own version of drug testing for welfare recipients last April. The measure requires the Department for Children and Families to establish a drug screening program by January of next year.

Kansas residents who receive benefits can be requested to take a drug test if there is “reasonable suspicion” they might be using illegal drugs. Prescription narcotics are allowed, so long as the client has a valid prescription for the drug. This applies to those who receive cash assistance. Suspicion can be based on police records of drug offenses, a person’s behavior, loss of a job because of substance abuse or if they miss appointments with welfare agents.

SB 149, signed into law by Governor Brownback, also requires screening for applicants for benefits. Those that test positive or who refuse to take the test will not be eligible for benefits. A postitive test will trigger enrollment in a substance abuse treatment program as well as a job skills program.

If children are involved, benefits can be given to some other person who agrees to use the money solely for the benefit of the children. This is to avoid punishing children when a parent is having problems with addiction. The bill also adds a loss of benefits and eligibility for anyone convicted of a drug felony after July 1st of this year. For a first offense, clients will be ineligible for five years. Multiple drug offenses will mean no benefits for life.

Whether this legislation will accomplish its intent, or simply put an additional burden on the poor, remains to be seen. In other states, the very low positive rate meant the tests ended up costing more than any savings from barring drug users. Other benefits, such as health insurance, may still be allowed, even after a positive test. The logic is to deny cash payments that can be converted into drugs by addicts.

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