Ohio proposal seeks to drug test certain welfare applicants

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, August 5, 2015

COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio would screen and test welfare applicants for drugs under a bill expected to be introduced in the legislature.

The proposal from Republican Reps. Tim Schaffer of Lancaster and Ron Maag of Lebanon would create a two-year pilot program in three counties that have yet to be determined.

Adults applying for cash assistance would complete a screening or questionnaire. If that shows they likely abuse drugs, they would need to take a drug test. They could not get the benefit if they test positive. But the bill allows a third party, a so-called “protective payee,” to receive the payment on behalf of the person’s children and dependents.

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The bill is expected to be introduced on Wednesday.

The state had 109,596 people in its cash assistance program as of May. Those on Ohio Works First included 94,240 children and 15,356 adults. The program provides monthly benefits for up to 36 months. In 2015, a payment for a family of three is $473.

The bill’s sponsors told reporters at a Statehouse news conference Tuesday that the legislation ensures that taxpayer money isn’t supporting drug habits or addiction.

“Right now, if someone is addicted to drugs, they may be getting the money,” Maag said. “They might be giving it to the drug dealer and their family is still suffering. This is to take care of the families and to get help for the person who is addicted to drugs.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio opposes the proposal. Among other issues, the group says it unfairly targets a people who receive public benefits.

“The overall conversation of placing the blame on people with public assistance is not the solution to Ohio’s struggle with addiction,” said Lisa Wurm, a policy manager for ACLU Ohio.

The bill’s sponsors could not estimate a specific cost for creating the drug-testing program or its potential savings. But Schaffer described it as “affordable” and believed the state would save some money.

The proposal would set aside $100,000 annually for drug treatment. The state also would pay for drug tests that come back negative, Schaffer said. But those who fail the urine tests would cover the expense, which is about $35.

Other aspects of the proposal are not yet known, such as the specific form of screening the state would use and what would be required of the applicants or county caseworkers. Schaffer said the state’s Department of Job and Family Services would help decide the policy and write the rules.

Other versions of the measure have been pitched in prior General Assemblies but never got traction.

State lawmakers are currently on summer break until September.