Utah Bill Would Require Welfare Recipients to Undergo Drug Testing

A Utah lawmaker said Wednesday that his proposal to require drug testing of some people who receive financial assistance is a “smarter, better way” than approaches in such states as Michigan and Florida — and the House Human Services Committee agreed by approving the bill.

HB 155, sponsored by Rep. Brad R. Wilson, R-Kaysville, would require Utahns seeking cash assistance through the state’s Family Employment Program to fill out a questionnaire that screens for substance abuse. The program provides cash aid provided by the federal government through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF ) block grant.

If the questionnaire, considered highly reliable for predicting addictive behavior, shows substance abuse is likely, the person would be required to take a drug test. Anyone who tests positive for misuse of controlled substances would be required to receive a minimum of 60 days of drug treatment and test negative in order to continue receiving benefits. The state Department of Workforce Services, which oversees the program, would pay for the drug treatment.

The first time a person refuses to take or fails a test, he or she would be ineligible for cash assistance for 90 days. A second failure within one year would result in one year of ineligibility. The bill allows an exception for properly prescribed and over-the-counter medication.

The bill estimates the cost of providing drug treatment would be $169,100, money that would come out of the state’s TANF allotment.

Wilson said the department already sanctions families who do not comply with aspects of individual employment plans; his proposal adds drug testing to the requirements.

The department estimates the screening questionnaire would lead to 5 percent to 10 percent of clients being required to take a drug test.

“This is an approach no one else around the country has tried,” Wilson said.

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