Plan to drug-test Indiana welfare recipients stalls

February 15, 2012

A bill aimed at requiring some Indiana welfare recipients to undergo drug testing failed to clear a legislative committee Wednesday after concerns were raised about the possible $1 million cost for a state agency to start the program.

The state Senate's health committee tied 5-5 on the bill, stalling it for now. The bill earlier passed the House and its sponsor said he'll look for a way to revive it later in the legislative session.

The bill proposed a three-county pilot program for testing those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds. It would require testing for recipients who agency officials have found reasonable suspicion of drug use and random testing for other recipients, with a range of penalties up to loss of benefits.

The House approved the bill 81-15 last month after adding a provision pushed by Democrats requiring lawmakers to submit to drug tests before receiving perks like parking spots and laptops. Democrats argued that Indiana's poor should not be the lone targets of drug testing.

Opponents told the Senate committee they worried that too few drug treatment programs were available to help poor people who might fail the tests and maintained that the testing policy would put a financial strain on the state's Family and Social Services Agency.

"The benefits are clearly not worth the cost," said Lucinda Nord of the Indiana Coalition for Human Services.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates that starting the drug testing program would cost FSSA between $810,000 and $1.1 million in its first year and between about $145,000 and $340,000 in the second year.

Republican Rep. Jud McMillin of Brookville, the bill's sponsor, said the agency's ongoing costs wouldn't increase much by expanding the testing program to all 92 of the state's counties, which is when the state would see greater savings from not paying welfare benefits to drug users.

"After rolling it out to the remainder of the counties, I believe the savings that we see will be disproportionate to the continuing costs," McMillin said.

Republican Sens. Beverly Gard of Greenfield and Vaneta Becker of Evansville joined the committee's three Democrats in voting against the bill. Gard said she supported the drug testing concept, but believed the program's cost needed more review.


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