Welfare Drug Screenings Clarified


Continuing coverage Monday on the impact of a program that will ask Arkansans applying for welfare if they use illegal drugs.

The expansion was put into law last week.  
The new drug screening process is specific to folks applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.

The governor’s office said contrary to what many people have heard, the changes will not take food away from kids in need.

“Are you currently using illegal drugs?”
“Have you lost your job, due to that drug use?”

Those are the two questions that will now be asked of people applying for TANF.
J.R. Davis, Spokesperson for Governor Asa Hutchinson said if a person answers “yes” to one or both of those questions, they’ll be asked to perform a drug test.

 “If that individual refuses the drug test, they would be without TANF benefits for 6 months,” J.R. Davis, Communications Director Gov. Hutchinson said.

Davis said if the results come back negative, their application will continue, but if they test positive for drugs there are a couple scenarios.

“They would be given a rehabilitation plan, if that individual decides not to do that, again they would lose benefits for 6 months.”

Davis said if that person decides to go through the rehab process, the application would continue and they’d get to keep their TANFbenefits.

But, for the vast majority of low-income families, rehab is likely not included in the budget, so who’s paying for the rehabilitation?

 “At that point, Medicaid would kick in and pay for that treatment, because again its considered health related, and then there’s a lot of these rehabilitation centers that it for free because they’re a non-profit,” Davis said.

According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, in order to be eligible for TANF you have to be responsible for a child under the age of eighteen.
Which begs the question, if the adult in the household isn’t able to apply for the benefits, what happens to the kids?

“Under law the children are protected.
So through DHS, they would work with that family, or friend or someone and they would allow them to be the beneficiary for that child until that individual comes back from that 6 month ban, or goes to the rehabilitation process.”

Davis said the changes are designed to help take drugs out of the home and bring families together.

But how many families will potentially be impacted by the changes?

We spoke with Laura Kellams from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.   

She said less than 4,000 families in Arkansas are on TANF, so she believes the new screening and testing process isn’t worth the money.

“Even to continue to serve those kids you have to put state workers on that to follow up through this process, and it’s such a small percentage of people,”  Laura Kellams, NWA Director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said.
Kellams said a child’s lifestyles may still be affected if the household income is changed because their parent or guardian is unable to get assistance.

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