An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Those joining the American Civil Liberties Union in false outrage over West Virginia lawmakers passing a bill to drug test some recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would do well to take another look at the proposal.
Beginning with the idea that this bill targets the poor – it does not; it targets drug users – opponents are painting the bill as a war on anyone in the Mountain State who might need a hand up. The bill passed by the House of Delegates, which includes some amendments to the bill already passed by the state Senate, mandates drug testing only for welfare applicants caseworkers have a “reasonable suspicion” are drug users. Factors for that suspicion can include a drug-related conviction in the past three years. From the start, the plan excludes the majority of welfare applicants.
Even once an applicant fails a drug test, it is possible that person will continue to receive welfare benefits, as long as he or she enrolls in drug treatment and job training programs. That sounds a lot like an attempt to help those struggling with drugs, not leave them out in the cold.
Benefits are lost – but only for a year – after a second failed test. It is not until the THIRD failed drug test that an applicant would be barred from the welfare system for life. Meanwhile, lawmakers have included provisions that ensure children of welfare recipients who fail tests will not lose their benefits.
ACLU in West Virginia Executive Director Jennifer Meinig complains the drug tests will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Taxpayers worried their hard-earned money is being handed out to those who find enough to spend on a drug habit might beg to differ.
But Meinig tried to buoy her argument by pointing out that in the ten states already conducting similar tests, NEARLY $2 million was spent, collectively, over two years. That works out to an average less than $100,000 per state, annually. Certainly Mountain State lawmakers are scrambling for every penny this year. But a little more than $1,800 per county in West Virginia to conduct testing that could steer some willing addicts toward drug treatment programs, while removing unwilling addicts from the taxpayer burden – in fact, could save lives and money, in the long run – is a very small price to pay.