PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A bill that encouraged state officials to conduct drug screening of welfare recipients suspected of using illegal drugs was rejected Monday by the South Dakota House after opponents said it would be impractical and would do little to help children in poor families.
The measure failed on a vote of 32-36.
It would have given the state Department of Social Services discretion to test people who get cash payments from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The tests could have been given only when officials had a reasonable suspicion a recipient was using illegal drugs. Those who failed the test would have lost benefits for up to one year, but would have been referred for treatment for their drug use.
The measure's main sponsor, Rep. Mark Venner, R-Pierre, said South Dakotans do not want welfare recipients receiving tax money and spending it on illegal drugs. The threat of a drug test could force parents to spend welfare money to buy food, clothing and shelter for their children, he said.
"This bill is for the taxpayer. This bill is for the family," Venner said.
However, Rep. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, noted social workers are not qualified to work as drug enforcers. Any welfare recipients suspected of using drugs should be reported to law officers, he said.
Venner said his proposal was intended to help remove children from homes where parents or guardians are using drugs. Children then could be placed in better homes, he said.
But Rep. Nick Moser, R-Yankton, said 83 percent of the people in families receiving welfare benefits are children. Drug tests for their parents would do little to solve the problems of dysfunctional families, he said.
If welfare recipients have to undergo drug tests because they get tax money, then everyone who gets a tax break under South Dakota law also should have to be tested for drugs, Moser said.
The measure was opposed by the state Department of Social Services, which runs the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. State Social Services Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon told a legislative committee last week that studies have shown welfare recipients are not much more likely to use drugs than anyone else in society.
About 3,200 South Dakota families receive benefits from the program, Malsam-Rysdon said. About two-thirds of those families involve children being cared for by relatives who are not their parents, she said.
The average welfare family receives about $400 a month from the program, and adults are required to work 20 hours a week, or 30 hours a week if the children are at least 6 years old.Tags: