By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
The North Carolina Senate has approved a bill that requires drug testing of applicants for the state’s worker training welfare program, “Work First.” The Senate approved SB 594 in a 35-15 vote Monday.
The bill is headed to the House. Rep. Joe Tolson (D-Edgecombe) said he feels certain the bill will pass.
Marva Scott, director of Edgecombe County Department of Social Services, spoke out against SB 594 in the county’s April 16 human services board meeting.
“I don’t agree personally to any required testing,” she said. “I think if people have a substance abuse issue and they want help, we can try to help that way. But not tie it to you don’t receive benefits if we find out that you do have…some type of substance in your system. I think it’s about helping people who want to be helped…People should have the freedom to be able to receive the services that they’re entitled to regardless of what other activity they’re doing.”
Work First provides job training and cash benefits to eligible families, through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The fee for the required drug test will be the responsibility of the applicants. Those who pass the screening would be reimbursed in future assistance payments.
“If it’s $25 or $50 for the drug test, that means they have to pay that money upfront. So if they don’t have that money…they can’t take the drug test, they can’t apply for the benefits,” said Scott.
Those who fail the drug test will have the option of reapplying in one year, after completing a drug treatment program at their expense.
“It’s just another hoop that people have to jump through to get benefits,” said Tolson. “We need to make things easier and not more difficult…These families are struggling and this just makes them have to struggle a little more to get the benefits.”
On the other hand, Tolson said those in need of benefits who are on drugs might view the requirement as an impetus to change their lifestyle.
“It may make some people realize that they have to do something about their drug habit to get the benefits,” he said.
Scott said some Work First clients in the county have a substance abuse problem, and DSS has a qualified professional to help those clients with that issue.
Work First is based on the premise that parents have the responsibility to support themselves and their children, Scott told the board at the April 16 meeting. To her, mandatory drug testing of applicants could create a problem in the area of child welfare.
“If parents do not have the money and they’re not able to get the benefits for their children, they’re going to do what they have to do to take care of their children. If they can’t afford to take care of their children, then they will become our children, because we will have to bring them into foster care, or find some other type of placement for them, and that becomes an issue,” said Scott.
Work First offers eligible parents short-term training and other services, including a one-time payment of up to three months’ worth of cash benefits, to help them become employed and self-sufficient. Recipients are required to work the hours before they receive the benefits.