In 2011, the Maine Legislature passed a law giving the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to implement drug testing for recipients of welfare benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who have been convicted of a felony drug offense. Now, nearly three years later, the department is looking to implement the controversial program.
"We need to ensure that these limited resources, intended to support vulnerable families, are being used for their intended purpose," stated DHHS Commissioner, Mary Mayhew. "We know that there is trafficking in EBT cards for the purchase of drugs. We know that when local law enforcement conducts drug raids, that they are recovering EBT cards."
She says screening applicants is just one way they hope to stop that practice, and have the benefits used by vulnerable families with young children to purchase basic necessities such as shelter, food and clothing.
"Our goal is to help people back on the pathway toward self-sufficiency, independence and employment," said Mayhew.
DHHS held a public hearing on the rule change on Monday afternoon in Augusta. Many of those providing testimony voiced concerns that drug testing could impact children by cutting off their parents' benefits. Some wondered how the policy would be enacted and who would pay, not only for the cost of testing, but provide support for families that no longer are eligible to receive benefits.
"I would suggest that we continue to look for ways to address an unacceptable drug abuse rate in our state among parents, and among those without children and among children themselves, but to plunge vulnerable families into deeper poverty in the process makes no moral sense at all," said Dr. William Barter, Executive Director of the Maine Council of Churches.
Others testified that the rule change could be against the law.
"Courts have clearly found that random drug testing of TANF participants is unconstitutional, and unlike random drug testing of all TANF participants, this proposal bases a drug test on a prior conviction