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A statewide program to screen some new welfare applicants for drug use has led to five people being denied government benefits over a four-month period, according to Department of Workforce Services data.

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Is a statewide program to screen some new welfare applicants for drug use worth the cost?

The data released this week from the department -- which distributes benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program -- show that it tested two applicants since it began administering the tests April 1.

One person failed the test, and another four refused to take it, making them temporarily ineligible to receive benefits.

In a memo sent to lawmakers in late March, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced he would direct the department to begin statewide testing of new applicants to the assistance program, commonly known as welfare. Annual cost estimates for the testing program were initially pegged at up to $1.7 million, though the department quickly reduced that number to $100,000.

On Thursday, department spokesman Steve Guntharp said the original estimates included expensive administrative costs that were later dropped.

Originally, the department had sought to hire a third-party consultant to develop a screening tool to help determine which applicants needed to take the drug tests. Instead the department developed its own questionnaire, which raises suspicion based on an applicant's answers to two questions about drug use in the previous 30 days.

The department also did away with a plan to take over from the Department of Human Services the process of determining who is eligible for the monetary assistance.

Lastly, Guntharp said the department simply overestimated the number of tests that would be required.

"I'm not sure we ever had a solid number, it was just an estimate when it was originally done and it tried to cover everything," Guntharp said.

The cost of the two drug tests, conducted by a'TEST Consulting Services Inc. in North Little Rock, was $139.50. Two more applicants are awaiting testing, according to the numbers provided by the department.

Guntharp said 800 families or individuals had applied for welfare assistance since the drug tests began. Within those applications, eight people were flagged for potential drug use based on their responses to the questionnaire, and four declined testing.

Drug testing of welfare recipients was approved by the Legislature as a two-year pilot program under Act 1205 of 2015. The sponsors of that act, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, and state Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, could not be reached for comment about the results Thursday.

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson, said the numbers showed the state was successful in its goal of encouraging drug users to get help or removing them from the program. He pointed to a provision of the law that allows children to continue to receive funding if a guardian tests positive.

"If accountability is the target of this program, then it has been successful to date," Davis said.

Democrats who disapproved of Hutchinson's statewide expansion of the pilot program earlier this year argued that the costs of the program were not recouped by its expected savings of $40,000, and that it unfairly targeted poor people.

"I still question the goals and whether they are accomplishing what the people of Arkansas think is happening or would like to see happening," said state House Minority Leader Michael John Gray, D-Augusta. "If we only flagged eight people, was it a problem we needed to address?"

Under the 2015 law, a positive result does not make a person ineligible to receive assistance if the person who failed the test agrees to undergo drug treatment. While Medicaid can be used to cover treatment, federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds cannot.

Guntharp said the department will determine on a case-by-case who pays for treatment if a person without Medicaid tests positive.

The only person to test positive so far declined to enter treatment.

About 2,000 Arkansans are currently receiving support from the temporary assistance program, Guntharp said. Monthly payments range from $81 for an individual to $457 for a family of nine or more.

Metro on 08/05/2016

Print Headline: State drug-test program leads to denial of welfare to 5

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Comments

  • PenLR
    August 5, 2016 at 8:56 a.m.

    Thank you for not letting my hard earned tax dollars go to drug use!!!

  • Queen1976
    August 5, 2016 at 8:59 a.m.

    It's about time that they be accountable if they are given our tax money!

  • PerdHapley
    August 5, 2016 at 9:29 a.m.

    Testing drugs on welfare recipients? Not good. We should heed the lessons of MKUltra which created Eleven and the Demogorgon.

  • 3WorldState1
    August 5, 2016 at 9:43 a.m.

    GOP=Big government. Maybe we should drug test people that get an interest deduction for their home? Depreciation? Charitable giving? Deferred taxation, bankruptcy etc tec. Where will the big GOP gov machine stop?

  • Whippersnapper
    August 5, 2016 at 10:01 a.m.

    3rd Grade Reader:
    Welfare = money these people are receiving that they never paid in, on the backs of tax payers
    Tax deduction = return of a small portion of the money to a taxpayer that that same taxpayer already paid in
    .
    So, unless you believe that every dollar rightfully belongs to the government (as I know some liberals believe), the first is a case of taking money from its rightful owner to re-distribute to someone else and the second case is returning money to its rightful owner. Which of those two propositions should have strings attached? Oh yeah, taking money from its rightful owner to hand out to someone else.
    .
    It is actually SMALLER government when you REDUCE the number of welfare recipients and handouts (and it is SMALLER government when you reduce taxes as well), so there is nothing inconsistent with these conservative positions.

  • Morebeer
    August 5, 2016 at 10:13 a.m.

    Time to start drug testing SS and Medicare recipients, too. Er, sorry MrChuck, but I think your prescriptions will hold up. Your doctor hasn't been indicted, yet.

  • hurricane46
    August 5, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    If they deny them welfare for drug use can they also deny welfare for being too lazy to get a job?, just wondering.

  • Packman
    August 5, 2016 at 11:13 a.m.

    Like voter ID laws, this issue helps illustrate a fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives believe a cornerstone of our democracy is personal responsibility and accountability as the price of individual liberty. Libs believe a cornerstone of our democracy is unfettered government handouts with no individual accountability or responsibility. These fundamental differences can be noted in some shape, form, or fashion on almost any issue. Which is just one more reason I'm proud to say I'm a conservative and not a f'ing lib.

  • Morebeer
    August 5, 2016 at 12:03 p.m.

    Packman equals Manichean
    (Now he has to call on his neighbor to borrow a dictionary)

  • Tigermule
    August 5, 2016 at 12:03 p.m.

    I have a job that provides the revenue stream that makes me self sufficient. To get that job, I had to pass a drug screen test and am subject to random drug testing.
    Seems reasonable that drug testing is a requirement for the welfare recipients.

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