Drug testing for Arkansas welfare recipients to begin

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Drug screening and testing is expected to begin in less than two weeks in Arkansas for the heads of families who apply for and receive government welfare.

Statewide testing and screening is likely to begin in seven to 10 days, according to Daryl Bassett, head of Arkansas’ Department of Workforce Services.

Applicants for government aid will answer a questionnaire regarding drug use, and if the answers raise concerns, the applicant will be asked to take a drug test.

Those who refuse testing will be denied benefits for six months.

Those who test positive can receive aid as long as they follow treatment or recovery plans.

Applicants who continue testing positive — or fail to complete the program — are excluded from receiving the funds directly and the benefits will sent to the person’s family.

Supporters claim the program will improve the quality of the workforce, send those in need to drug treatment, and safeguard government money from being spent by drug users.

Critics argue the program could cost too much for its return.

The program has been estimated to cost from $1.45 million to $1.7 million a year, while providing $40,000 in savings, because of people found to be ineligible for benefits because of drug use.

Bassett, however, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1UOzg26 ) that it’s impossible to know exactly how much money the state will spend.

“We’ve never done this before,” Bassett said. “We were looking at other states that have done it. … At this point, we don’t have any idea of what this cost is going to be to us because we don’t know how many (welfare applicants) will show as ‘suspicious.’ … We don’t know how many will have to go to testing.”

Democratic Rep. Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke, said the program could distract from what she considers more important issues, such as roads and jobs, while increasing the size and cost of the state government.

“There are many issues … but creating more bureaucracy doesn’t solve the problem,” Bennett said. “It’s smoke and mirrors. We’re adding complexity and confusion to an already complex and confusing program and we’re accomplishing nothing.”

J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchison, and Bassett said the data on drug use and employment will help determine how the program performs over the coming months.

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