Drug Testing for Georgia Welfare Recipients Passes State Senate
The bill moves onto the state House of Representatives for approval.
State welfare recipients are one step closer to having to undergo drug testing before they recieve state money, since the Georgia Senate passed the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act on Wednesday. However, the bill still needs to go to the state House of Representatives for approval before it becomes law.
Sponsored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), the legislation requires recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug screening to determine welfare eligibility.
“True compassion is doing what’s best for people, not what’s easiest,” said Albers. “This is the ideology behind why the bill is named the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act. With the passage of SB 292 today, we will help ensure the proper allocation of taxpayer-funded TANF benefits and prevent these funds from being diverted to illicit drug use.”
Under this legislation, the drug testing requirement is modeled after the tests required by the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs or other professionally valid procedures. If enacted into law, this test would require a swab test in lieu of urinalysis.
TANF applicants who are not currently enrolled in Medicaid will be responsible for covering the drug-testing application fee, which could run up to $17. However, if these individuals test negative for controlled substances, they will be fully reimbursed for all expenses as part of their first benefits check.
In addition, TANF applicants enrolled in Medicaid will be required to pay the $17 drug-testing application fee and will not be eligible for direct TANF reimbursement.
As part of the bill’s provisions, all TANF applicants must be drug tested no later than 48 hours after their application has been approved by the Department of Human Services (DHS).
Under this legislation, individuals who test positive for controlled substances will be ineligible for TANF benefits under the following restrictions:
- If an applicant tests positive, the individual will be ineligible to reapply for benefits for one month.
- If a second positive result is produced, the applicant will be ineligible to receive benefits for three months.
- For a third and subsequent positive result, the applicant will be ineligible for benefits for one year.
If an applicant is found ineligible after subsequent drug tests, the individual may reapply after six months if they successfully complete a substance abuse program.
“It is sad that in Georgia there are some who struggle with the disease of addiction. We see the destruction an addiction can take, not only on the addict, but also on their loved ones and our communities. I am proud that my colleagues stood behind Senate Bill 292 to ensure that tax dollars will not fund this abuse and hopefully these individuals will be encouraged to seek the help they so desperately need,” said President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R-Lyons).
Recent studies have shown that individuals who engage in drug abuse are less likely to maintain employment and, as a result, remain on welfare-related programs for longer periods of time. In a study surveying New Jersey TANF recipients, individuals who abused drugs stayed on welfare for an average of 12 years, versus 5.8 years for those who did not.
“This legislation would help families that need temporary assistance while also providing help for individuals who need rehabilitation from illegal drug use,” said Albers.
For two parent families, only one parent must comply with drug screening requirements. However, teen parents who do not currently live with a parent or adult caretaker will be responsible to comply with all drug testing requirements. In addition, dependent children under the age of 18 are exempt from these requirements.
If a parent fails the state mandated drug-testing and is deemed ineligible to receive TANF benefits, the eligibility of a dependent child will not be affected. For these instances, another individual can be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.
According to SB 292, if an applicant fails a drug test, the DHS must provide them with a list of substance abuse providers, although the state will not be responsible for providing or paying for treatment.
Exemptions for mandatory drug testing will be made for individuals who are considered by the Department of Human Services to be significantly impaired due to a physical, mental or developmental disability. In addition, persons enrolled in a Medicaid enhanced primary care case management program will also be exempt from this requirement.
In an effort to protect the privacy of welfare applicants, all screening results will remain confidential and exempt from public records law.
“At the heart of welfare is the notion that government is responsible for the prosperity and success of our lives,” said Albers. “It is not. Government is responsible for providing the environment and helping people when needed with a 'hand up' and not a 'handout.'”
SB 292 passed with a vote of 35 to 18. It will now go on to the House of Representatives for a vote.