HB1385 was introduced in the North Dakota State legislator earlier this week by Rep. Dennis Johnson. It would require drug testing for all recipients of TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) assistance. A first offense would deny the recipient benefits for a year. A second offense would deny benefits for three years. The welfare recipient would be responsible for the cost of testing. A positive drug test for a parent would not end benefits for a child. Rather, a third-party recipient for those benefits on behalf of the child would have to be designated.
I interviewed Rep. Johnson about the bill, and he told me he introduced it to start a “conversation” about the topic here in North Dakota.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtMQxywIews&w=640&h=360]
Other states, most notably Florida, have passed similar legislation. In fact, Rep. Johnson told me he modeled his bill after Florida’s legislation, but Florida has run into some problems with their bill. Critics say that after implementation the program has cost more than it has saved in reduced benefits and it is currently not being enforced due to a challenge in the federal courts.
To the legal question, Johnson says that’s something to worry about after both houses of the legislature has passed it and the governor has signed, noting that the bill will probably be amended significantly before it becomes law. To the cost savings question, Johnson doesn’t so much see this bill as a way to save money by denying people benefits but rather as a way to provide incentive for those who need public assistance to stop their substance abuse.
That’s an interesting way of looking at the bill. Rather than stopping people who need help from getting help, this bill would require as prerequisite a prerequisite to getting benefits that those needing the help stop creating problems for themselves.