House lawmakers today voted on the final form of a bill that would require the Department of Human Services to screen welfare recipients for drug use and allow the agency to require a drug test as a condition of eligibility.
“Oklahomans sympathize and want to help those who are truly needy, but hate the idea that their taxes would go to pay for illegal drug activity and addiction,” said state Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City. “An added benefit of the bill is that it encourages addicts to undergo substance abuse treatment in order to qualify for TANF assistance.”
House Bill 2388, as modified in the Senate, requires the DHS to screen adults who apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program for drug use. The legislation allows DHS to request a drug test if there is reasonable cause to believe the applicant is illegally using a controlled substance. If the applicant refuses to participate or is determined to be using an illegal drug, they would be denied benefits. DHS would be responsible for the cost of drug testing.
Applicants who undergo a substance abuse treatment program can reapply for benefits six months after the date of the denial. Child-only cases and underage parents would be exempt from the drug screening. The legislation also provides that an alternative payee can be named when a parent has been found ineligible for benefits.
“In working on the legislation throughout session, we were able to address a number of concerns that it would have a negative effect on law-abiding applicants,” Liebmann said. “I think what we have come up with a bill that reduces the burden on law-abiding applicants, but will still ensure tax dollars are not funding drug use.”
State Rep. John Bennett said the misuse of welfare benefits was a top concern among his constituents.
“I opened a local office in my district shortly after being elected in 2010 to ensure I stay in close touch to my constituents and listen to their concerns,” said Bennett, R-Sallisaw. “They overwhelmingly told me that they want the abuse of welfare benefits to buy drugs to stop. I worked with Representative Liebmann to push for this bill’s passage. I am proud to say it has passed and I encourage the citizens of Oklahoma to contact the governor and encourage her to sign this bill into law.”
State Rep. Sean Roberts said the bill is “good common-sense legislation.”
“We have law enforcement fighting illegal drug activity on one hand and welfare going to fund drug habits on the other,” said Roberts, R-Hominy. “Oklahomans are tired of it. The law-abiding citizens of Oklahoma should not be forced to pay for someone’s illegal drug addiction. This legislation will reduce abuse of our system and increase the incentive for drug abusers to get treatment.”
House Bill 2388 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a bipartisan 86-6 vote. It now proceeds to the governor’s office to be signed into law.