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Proposed bill would cut off public assistance after failed drug test

by WHAS11 News


Posted on January 19, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 19 at 8:21 AM

   LANCASTER, Ky. (WHAS11) -- One Kentucky lawmaker has proposed a bill that would require random drug tests for adults who get food stamps, Medicaid or other state assistance.  Under the bill, people who fail the drug test would lose their benefits, but could get benefits back by passing a drug test at a later date.

Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster) says the policy could save Kentucky millions of dollars, and if drug abusers are embarrassed in the process, so be it.

Under House Bill 208, Kentuckians who receive state assistance like food stamps or Medicaid - would be subject to random drug tests. And if they fail it could trigger a loss of those benefits, even if the recipient has children.

"If we random test people, it's going to put the fear in people and maybe they'll clean themselves up," said Napier, "If we can just get a few people off of drugs in the state of Kentucky, won't that be wonderful?"

Napier says the bill doesn't apply to benefits people have earned - such as unemployment insurance or Social Security.  But, he says public assistance should not be unconditional.

"People across this country is sick and tired and fed up aiding and helping people stay on drugs," Napier said.

On the streets of downtown Louisville, people told about the bill agreed with it.

"If they're not clean from drugs," remarked Gena Meyers, "then I don't think they should be getting any of the other types of benefits."

"If I have to take a drug test for a job," added Derek Gaskins, "I think they should have to take a drug test to get benefits."

The bill was just filed on Friday and already has bipartisan support, including from the top Democrat in the House - Speaker Greg Stumbo.  Though it is unclear what kind of hearing the idea will be given in committee, a top Senate Republican says it's a good idea.

"I think we as taxpayers have a right to believe, to insist that they be drug free," said Sen. Dan Seum (R-Okolona).

Napier says the bill doesn't apply to those with a prescription for a controlled substance and that those who fail the drug test could first be given a warning before losing their benefits.  
And as for the children of drug abusers who stand to lose their benefits?

"Can you imagine living in a, children living in a home where it's full of drug addicts?" questioned Napier, "They're using their food stamps to buy groceries and not to buy groceries for the kids.  They're buying groceries and trading them (for) illegal drugs."

Napier says the more than 600,000 adult Kentuckians on welfare would pay for their own drug test.

The executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates Terry Brooks tells WHAS11 that if the state is ready to help treat those who are found to be abusing drugs, the bill could be helpful.  But he warned against it being a simple punishment for drug abusers.