- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansans who apply for certain job-training benefits and other family aid could be required to take a drug test under a proposal endorsed by a House committee on Thursday.

The House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor sent a bill to the full House that would create a two-year pilot program in which the Department of Workforce Services would be required to question applicants and to refer people deemed as suspicious for drug testing.

The change would apply to about 12,000 people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. All recipients in counties bordering Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee would be screened because those states have similar laws.

The TANF program is intended to help families reach a level of self-sufficiency, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Major goals include helping parents keep children in their own homes and promote ways for people to find and keep jobs.

Daryl Bassett, director of the state Department of Workforce Services, told lawmakers the agency isn’t opposed to the bill and that it is similar to requirements in other states. He estimated the bill would cost more than $2 million to implement.

Under the proposal, Arkansas taxpayers would pay the cost of tests that came back negative. Someone who tests positive for drug use could still receive assistance, but would need to enter a treatment program, and the cost of the drug test would be deducted from any benefits awarded.

Co-sponsor Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, said the bill is designed to ensure aid gets to people who truly need it.

Opponents questioned whether the program is a good use of taxpayer funds. The lone speaker against the bill was Marquita Little with the nonprofit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She said similar laws in other states produced very little results and that there are better ways to treat drug addiction.

“These types of drug tests are often based upon flawed assumptions that there is a higher percentage of drug use among low-income families; many families who are really just working very hard to overcome difficult economic times,” Little said.

Lundstrum said that the low number of people who screen positive for drugs can be misleading, and that the program could serve as a deterrent to drug use. She said she will measure the success of the program by the number of people who don’t apply for benefits.

“If you’ve got to go through this process and deal with this issue, wouldn’t it be much easier to get a high-paying job or a decent job than mess with … having a drug test and possible arrest?” Lundstrum said.

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