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Panel wants to study plan to remove drugs users from public assistance payments

Panel wants to study plan to remove drugs users from public assistance payments

Dustin Hurst
February 26, 2010
Dustin Hurst
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February 26, 2010

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee, including leaders from both sides of the aisle, introduced a resolution Thursday directing the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to study the cost of implementing a program to require those receiving public assistance funds to be required to undergo random drug testing.

Committee members introduced the plan, according to chairmen Rep. Richard Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, to "to see if such a program is even possible.  Wills said the department will need to study the actual costs of program implementation, drug screening and administrative fees, as well the ramifications of instituting the program on federal funding for certain public assistance programs.  Because much of the funding for such programs, like Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps, is intermingled with state and federal tax dollars, the department must report on any possible losses in funding as a result of the random drug screenings, said Wills.

The program outlined in the resolution would screen recipients for illicit drugs and give them 90 days to become clean.  If a person tests positive for drugs after that 90-day period, he will become ineligible for public assistance payments.  The resolution does not mention if a positive drug test will result in law enforcement measures, such as jail time or mandatory rehabilitation.  All drug screening would be random, noted committee members.

The bill's text may offer insight as to the lawmakers' intentions for studying drug screening for public assistance recipients.  From the bill:

Substance abuse in and of itself impairs personal responsibility and self-sufficiency and stands in the way of the very intent of public assistance programs to care for the health and welfare of certain otherwise qualified recipients and in so doing results in welfare costs that burden the state’s taxpayers.

The department is directed by the resolution to report its findings on the cost of the program before the 2011 legislative session commences.

The bill was introduced with supporting votes by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, House Majority Caucus Chair, Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, Minority Caucus Chair Bill Killen, D-Boise, and Wills.  House Minority John Rusche, D-Lewiston, cast the sole dissenting vote against the resolution.  The bill now heads to the House Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.

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