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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Assistance drug-testing bill advances

The Indiana House has approved measure that would require drug testing of certain recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits and now it goes to the Senate.

Posted on Feb. 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 26, 2013 at 2:17 p.m.

ELKHART — Joni Lambright would have no problem submitting to a drug test as a condition for receiving public assistance.

She has nothing to hide. What’s more, it’s the least she can do.

“They’re being generous enough to help me in my time of need,” said the Elkhart woman, who receives food stamps to help support her and her three children.

As such, she’s all for House Bill 1483, a measure that would potentially make recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits submit to drug testing. The Indiana House overwhelming approved the measure Monday, Feb. 25, in a 78-17 vote and now it goes to the Senate Public Health Committee.

Since she isn’t a recipient of TANF, Lambright wouldn’t be impacted by H.B. 1483, if ultimately approved. But still, she can relate to the tough circumstances that lead people to TANF, cash assistance geared to low-income families with kids. And as she sees it, fair’s fair — people have to submit to drug tests for their jobs, so those getting public assistance should, too.

“It makes sense to have the same kind of requirement for those kind of benefits,” said Lambright, who cares for her three kids and a boyfriend recovering from a severe car crash. “Why would you willingly support someone with a drug problem? You’re just enabling that person to continue that negative behavior.”


H.B 1483 obliges recipients of TANF benefits to complete a screening test for substance abuse. Those suspected of drug use based on the screening may be required to submit to drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits or face random testing.

Indiana Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, a co-author and backer of the measure, sees it as a tool to get counseling for drug abusers. Those testing positive for drug use could still receive TANF benefits, but they would have to submit to drug counseling. If they subsequently test positive for drug use, their assistance could be cut, though they could reapply for benefits after a waiting period.

Rep. Wes Culver, R-Goshen, sees H.B. 1483 as a means of helping children of drug abusers, by prodding their parents to treatment. Both Culver and Neese echoed Lambright, noting that employees in the private sector frequently have to submit to drug testing, while Neese further characterized the measure as a means to safeguard public funds.

“I wan’t to emphasize — this legislation is not about profiling or assuming low-income people are using drugs,” said Neese.

Some Democrats said they opposed the proposal over worries of too few affordable drug treatment programs, the Associated Press reported.

“There are no safeguards to help people,” said Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis. “We don’t know that in the 92 counties of Indiana whether or not there’s a treatment plan or treatment program for them.”

H.B. 1483 is the third attempt in about eight years at legislation meant to require drug testing among TANF recipients, according to Neese. An unsuccessful version last year would have potentially made those testing postive for drugs criminally liable, and removal of that provision has helped improve the viability of H.B. 1483, said Culver, another bill co-author.

According to state figures, 12,886 Indiana families received TANF benefits in January, with an average distribution of $81.42 per person. In Elkhart County, 422 families got benefits, with an average distribution of $71.32 per person.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

Follow Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack

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