Enact drug testing program

The need to fight drug abuse with every weapon we have in West Virginia has become so clear that on Tuesday, a bill that once was very controversial passed the state Senate by a 32-2 vote. Members of the House of Delegates should follow suit.

Requiring recipients of public assistance to be tested for illegal drugs is an old idea. But in the past, it went nowhere in our state, in large measure because critics said it stereotyped people receiving welfare benefits.

But as has been pointed out, it is precisely those low-income people who need more intervention if they are to get help in their own personal battles against drug abuse. They cannot afford to pay for addiction recovery treatment. Many fear that if they ask for it, they will lose public assistance on which they and their families rely. So identifying low-income West Virginians who need help – then assisting them in getting it – is critical.

As approved by the Senate, the bill calls for a three-year pilot project of testing some recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Only those about whom officials have “reasonable suspicion” of drug abuse would be required to undergo testing. Drug-related convictions or caseworkers concluding a person’s behavior raise such suspicions could trigger testing.

TANF recipients who fail the tests would not lose their benefits. They would have to obtain treatment and complete counseling and job skills training. Only if a second test comes back positive would benefits be jeopardized.

Far from being a bad thing for TANF clients, then, the testing could be a life-saving godsend.