- Report Published -
|Recipient Drug Testing Study|
|Department of Social Services|
|SJR 356 (Regular Session, 1997)|
|Senate Joint Resolution 356 passed by the 1997 General Assembly directed the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to conduct a study on drug testing of cash assistance to needy families recipients in Virginia. |
As a result of efforts at the state and federal level to require most recipients to work, it is important to develop policy that addresses substance abuse problems in a way that effectively assists the family in removing this barrier to self-sufficiency and family well-being. Time limits on receipt of cash assistance add a sense of urgency to the need for the state to identify problems of substance abuse and ensure that those in need of treatment are linked to resources.
There are several complex policy issues that arise regarding drug testing for cash assistance applicants and recipients. The role of drug testing in the context of a cash assistance program for needy families is a fundamental issue. The underlying premise of both Virginia and federal welfare reform efforts is that the cash assistance program is time-limited and is to assist needy families to progress from dependence on government assistance to self-sufficiency through employment. The roles of drug testing in this effort may be to: (1) identify recipients who need substance abuse treatment; (2) monitor compliance with treatment; (3) screen recipients on behalf of employers; and, (4) try to reduce drug use by sanctioning welfare recipients who test positive.
Costs of drug testing are high, ranging from $2.00 up to $70.00 per test, not including increased administrative costs associated with collecting samples, security, and evaluation of results. A random sample approach of the public assistance caseload would decrease costs as compared to testing all applicants and recipients, but would not identify all individuals who may need treatment in order to better take care of and support their children.
Several unresolved legal issues have been identified regarding mandatory drug testing of recipients. These include a Fourth Amendment issue regarding search and seizure, the unreliability of certain test results, and whether and under what conditions test results are admissible as evidence in a court of law. Because these legal issues have not yet been tested in court and because costs of drug testing are high, only three states (Nevada, Ohio, and Maryland) have opted to make drug testing a requirement of their cash assistance programs.
Some states are using client interview screening instruments as an alternative for drug testing to identify families where substance or alcohol abuse may be a barrier to employability. There is a cost associated with use of these instruments, but early evaluation results are promising. Results of the screening are used to determine the appropriateness of a referral for further testing, diagnosis, and treatment.
The role of sanctions for a failed drug test is another fundamental policy issue. States that have adopted such a policy do not have a long enough history to demonstrate that this policy is effective in deterring drug use.
Current Virginia policy addresses the drug problem in three areas: (1) a protective payee may be required in cases where the parent has persistently demonstrated mismanagement of funds in meeting the needs of the child(ren); (2) a protective payee is required when a caretaker on probation or parole has failed a drug test as reported by the Department of Corrections; and, (3) an individual who has been convicted of a drug-related felony after August 22, 1996 is excluded from eligibility for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Food Stamps as required by federal law.
Treatment for substance abuse is a key component in removing a serious barrier to employability and long-term self-sufficiency for the family. The Secretary of Health and Human Resources’ TANF Advisory Committee has studied the option allowed under the federal block grant to drug test recipients. The Committee’s proposed recommendation is that the state not institute universal drug testing as a condition of eligibility, but rather that all adult recipients must go through an interview-based drug screening based on reliable instruments currently available. Those who fail the screening would be referred to the Community Services Board at the time of approval for TANF and would be required to follow the prescribed drug treatment program. Instituting such a policy will have the following effects on the TANF Program:
• Screening immediately will ensure quicker identification of persons with substance abuse problems and quicker intervention.
• Intervening immediately may prevent problems from occurring at the employment site, which will result in better relations with employers.
• Screening is less costly and easier to implement than drug testing.
• Treating will help alleviate substance abuse problems, which will lead to a better environment for children.
• Reducing substance abuse problems will reduce the crime rate.
• Treating drug abuse will have a positive effect on the long term possibility of a client becoming self-sufficient.