Wed. 7:22 p.m.: Ohio proposal seeks to drug test some welfare applicants

COLUMBUS – Welfare applicants in Ohio would be screened and tested for illegal drugs under a bill introduced today in the state legislature.

The proposal would create a two-year pilot program in three counties that have yet to be determined.

Adults applying for cash assistance would complete a screening or questionnaire. If that shows they likely abuse drugs, they would need to take a drug test. They would not receive the benefit if they test positive. But the bill allows a third party, a so-called “protective payee,” to get the payment on behalf of the person’s children and dependents.

At least 13 states have passed drug-testing or -screening legislation for people receiving or applying for public assistance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In June, Michigan’s governor signed a state budget that included $300,000 to implement a pilot program in three counties to give drug tests to welfare recipients suspected of substance abuse.

The sponsors of Ohio’s bill told reporters Tuesday that the legislation ensures that taxpayer money isn’t supporting drug habits.

“Right now, if someone is addicted to drugs, they may be getting the money,” said Rep. Ron Maag, a Lebanon Republican. “They might be giving it to the drug dealer and their family is still suffering. This is to take care of the families and to get help for the person who is addicted to drugs.”

Those who test positive for drugs would be connected to treatment options, the sponsors say.

Most recipients of Ohio’s cash benefit program are children. As of May, those on Ohio Works First included 94,240 children and 15,356 adults. The program provides benefits for up to 36 months. In 2015, a payment for a family of three is $473 each month.

“There’s nothing that’s going to stop getting the benefits to the children and to the families that need it,” Republican Rep. Tim Schaffer of Lancaster said of his bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio opposed the proposal. Among other issues, the group said it unfairly targets a group of people who receive public benefits.

“The overall conversation of placing the blame on people with public assistance is not the solution to Ohio’s struggle with addiction,” said Lisa Wurm, a policy manager for ACLU of Ohio.