Lawmakers Debate Drug Testing For Kansas Welfare Recipients

By: Jared Cerullo Email
By: Jared Cerullo Email

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The topic of welfare reform has been an issue for many years, but now a group of Kansas lawmakers are trying to make it a reality here. A new proposal introduced in the Kansas House Monday would require a third of all Kansas welfare recipients to have a random drug screen, but does it go far enough?

There is nothing new about the idea of drug testing for welfare. In Florida, welfare enrollment has dropped to its lowest level in years since enacting a law. But it's also now facing a tough legal challenge. More than a dozen states now refuse welfare benefits to anyone who has been convicted of a drug crime.

At Kelly Compliance in West Wichita, Stacie Tucker is a drug and alcohol technician.

"We have people who are on welfare that come in for drug testing and we have people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year come in for drug testing," Tucker said.

Many of us know the procedure. You wash your hands and grab the cup.

"I'm just here to do my job," Tucker explained. "You don't know what their story is. If they do have a drug problem, we hope they get it fixed."

The group of lawmakers are proposing a three strikes rule. A first offense would result in a drug evaluation and possible education and treatment. A second drug test failure would result in a mandatory education and treatment program and removal from benefits for one year. A third strike would result in no cash assistance for life and anyone else in the household would have to get benefits from a state-approved third party.

"At one time, I would have thought, 'Why are they worrying about what I'm doing?'" said Christina Henderson, who is a reformed addict and welfare recipient. "Now I see the point. I think strongly that they should do this."

Henderson nearly lost her family. Selling her welfare assistance for drugs and alcohol, she finally ended up in prison. She, for one, doesn't think the proposed law goes far enough.

"That's pretty lenient because it's saying if you can fail it the second time, we'll just keep you from it for a year," said Henderson. "Go find something else to do for a year and we'll pick you back up later. It doesn't make sense."

The proposed bill is currently in debate at the statehouse in Topeka. It is co-sponsored by eight representatives.

The recipients would pay for the drug screen out of their own pockets. If they pass the test, however, the cost would be reimbursed by the state. Right now, SRS says there are about 13,000 Kansas households on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Last year, 36 states took up the issue of drug testing for welfare benefits. 12 states proposed it for unemployment compensation and some also required it for food stamps.

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