County wants to test welfare recipients for drugs
By Sarah Einselen
An Ohio Senate bill that would require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing is in committee, and Crawford County volunteered to be one of three counties to participate in a pilot of the drug testing program.
County commissioners sent Gov. Kasich a letter reiterating their willingness to allow Crawford County to help pilot a program founded on Senate Bill 69, which was introduced in February and is now under the auspices of the Health, Human Services and Aging committee. Commissioners Jenny Vermillion and Doug Weisenauer had told the governor and his staff at a Sept. 23 meeting that the county had significant food stamp fraud and wanted to help launch the proposed statewide drug testing program.
The program, as outlined in SB 69, would require adults applying for need-based public assistance, including cash, food stamps, and medical, housing and energy assistance, to pass a urine drug test. People applying for unemployment benefits would not be required to take a drug test. Anyone else who refuses the test would be ineligible to receive benefits and would also have to wait 30 days before reapplying. As is standard in drug testing, people taking legally prescribed medications would not be considered to have failed a drug test.
Little more is known about the program at this point, since the bill is not yet passed or signed into law. According to a state-issued analysis of SB 69 as introduced, the local county agencies in the pilot program would conduct assessments of all applicants for Ohio Works First cash assistance to determine if there is reasonable cause to suspect that the applicant is a drug user. Then, if the agency deems it necessary, the applicant would have to take a drug screening, initially at his or her own expense.
Failing the drug screen would make someone ineligible to receive OWF cash assistance for a year, but that failure would not make other members of the household ineligible for assistance.
Crawford County already has many applicants who are abusing drugs, according to county Job and Family Services director Linda Bassett. Of the younger people applying for food stamps, “many even openly admit that they’re drug dependent,” she said.
“We completed about 500 fraud investigations in the last 12 months,” Bassett noted. “We could have done ten times that many, but we just don’t have the staff.” Some of those investigations were initiated before an applicant began receiving benefits, but others involved assistance that was already being disbursed. The county had 8,385 applicants for food assistance from January through October and about 15,000 Medicaid recipients.
The county has not kept a total of the money that has been defrauded, Bassett said, and cannot pursue all instances in which fraud is suspected, so it is unknown how much money is lost to fraud. The county attempts to collect back overpayments in the cash assistance program, Bassett said, but has difficulty doing so.
Bassett still has several questions yet to be answered by the state, including whether the state would pay for the program’s implementation or if that burden would be borne by the county instead. The cheapest urine drug screen offered by Galion Community Hospital is a seven-panel test that costs $33, according to the hospital’s WorkWell office. But Bassett said the county could benefit immensely from screening applicants for state assistance.
“We are having quite a few people selling the benefits on their cards,” Bassett said, referring to the electronic debit-type cards issued for food assistance. “We know that fraud is occurring and we also know that we have a drug problem in the county.”
“I think that’s where a lot of the fraud is occurring, in the food stamps,” she said.
Critics of testing welfare recipients for drugs have said that denying assistance based on drug addiction hurts children of users, since the assistance no longer provides food for them. Bassett suggested that, based on conversations between children and school officials, some welfare recipients who are defrauding the system to obtain more drugs are also defrauding their children of the food that welfare is supposed to help provide.
Bassett cautioned that the reports are based on what children have said, so their veracity may be called into question, but nevertheless presented a response to critics.