Issue of Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients May Resurface in VA - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Issue of Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients May Resurface in VA

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It's certainly not the first time someone has suggested drug tests for welfare recipients, but the old idea has new life in Virginia and could make headlines when the General Assembly meets in January.

It's a polarizing suggestion that pits privacy against public policy and, some say, the haves against the have-nots.

Albemarle County social services director Kathy Ralston uses the questionnaires to screen clients for substance abuse red flags when they apply for welfare and workforce benefits.

“Part of that is doing an assessment and getting them treatment if they need that treatment,” Ralston said.

She's concerned about a proposed bill that would require people to pass a drug screening in order to receive benefits.

“It's not tied to any treatment. The person is just cut off from assistance at the very beginning,” Ralston said.

Albemarle County Delegate Rob Bell is backing the bill in the upcoming General Assembly session.

“If in fact you are currently addicted to drugs, our worry is you would use the cash benefits to buy drugs, obviously. So, we think, not only does it not help, it actually feeds the problems that cause the addiction,” Bell said.

A single Senate vote killed the bill last session. Opponents point to a study that finds the program would cost the state roughly $1 million a year.

“There'd be some savings on the backside with the money you don't give out,” Bell said.

The bill would not cut off dependents of people who fail the drug test.

“The money coming for the kids can be used to buy things through vendors, but you wouldn't be giving the cash directly to someone who has a drug problem,” Bell said.

Ralston fears cutting off parents will push them onto more costly public assistance for a perceived problem she doesn't see with clients in Albemarle County.

“Could they end up homeless? Could they end up in a situation where we have to take the children into foster care because they can no longer care for them?” Ralston said.

She adds, “To use it for drugs would be a stretch in most cases. Most people are trying to use it to stay alive.”

The bill allows for random six-month drug testing if the initial screening shows a reason to suspect illegal substance use. The bill proposes allowing people to reapply for benefits one year later.

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