Business and Economics

Welfare Recipients Drug-Test Bill Moves Out Of Committee

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January 22, 2014 —

INDIANAPOLIS – A House committee on Wednesday amended and passed a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.

House Bill 1351 would also limit the food that recipients of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could purchase.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, introduced the controversial measure, which he’s been pushing for several years.

“I do understand that the concepts we are discussing in this bill highlights the philosophical differences people in this room have probably more so than a lot of the other bills we have covered,” he said.

As introduced, the bill had three parts:

–       Requiring Hoosiers who receive SNAP benefits – formerly called food stamps – to show identification when using the program’s debit card.

–       Require recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to take a written test to determine whether they had the propensity to use drugs. Those who failed the test would then be put into a pool and some of them would be drug tested.

–       Set new rules for the kinds of food that SNAP recipients can purchase.

Members of the Family, Children, and Human Affairs Committee voted to eliminate the photo ID requirement but left the drug testing and nutrition guidelines, which will move to the full House for consideration.

McMillin assured the committee that individuals who failed drug tests would not be immediately removed from TANF benefits but would instead be encouraged to seek help for their drug problem. Those that continue to fail after seeking treatment could be removed permanently from the program.

Rep. Vanessa Summers, D–Indianapolis, questioned the failsafe for those who continue to fail the drug tests.

“In my community, our community centers and clinics are drying up, and then there’s nowhere for them to go,” Summers said. “I think you end up leaving people hanging out there with a drug problem and no money and no way to feed their family.”

Rep. John Bartlet, D–Indianapolis, expressed concerns about the bill due to his own personal experiences when he tried to get assistance.

“They treated me like dirt. You continue to put these folks down and wonder why they don’t want to function like you,” Bartlet said. “I think this is a bad deal.”

McMillin countered the bill is meant to provide accountability to those who use public assistance, rather than a deterrent.

“We’re spreading (resources) so far we can’t have enough to help everyone,” McMillin said.

David Sklar, director of government affairs, testified against the bill. He represented the Jewish Community Relations Council and Indiana Coalition for Human Services. Sklar was cut off due to the time constraint on the committee.

Later, he said, “We’re not opposed to the concept of ensuring the tax dollars are going to the right place. The problem we have with this bill is the utilization of resources that it’s going to take. The costs outweigh the benefits.”

Sklar said he’s also concerned about the nutritional guidelines.

“We’re certainly not opposed to people using SNAP benefits for nutritional foods. But what we face as a state is an issue about people having access to nutritious foods,” Sklar said. “The SNAP program only offers $1.50 a day per meal, per person. As much as a person would want to go into a grocery store and buy all the fruits and vegetables they can, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than Doritos or macaroni and cheese.”

Two other states in 2004 and in 2011 applied for waivers seeking to add nutritional requirements to their SNAP programs but federal officials – who pay for the program – denied both requests.

The bill passed the committee 8-4 and moves to the full House for consideration.



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