Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A solution looking for a problem

Rep. Ruth Kagi
As of last year, 19 states require drug testing or screening of applicants or recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), the cash assistance commonly referred to as "welfare."  Washington is not one of them.  Does this mean taxpayers are subsidizing drug habits in our state?

Actually, we have a pretty good system already in place to identify and address substance abuse issues in those who apply for TANF benefits.  Our caseworkers identify clients with potential substance abuse problems, and refer them for assessment and, if necessary, treatment.

These referrals are not simply polite suggestions.  Clients who refuse to participate in the assessment and/or treatment process are "sanctioned," which means their assistance is reduced by 40 percent.  At the end of the sanction period, if they still do not comply with treatment, they lose their assistance entirely.  In other words, our state can and does cut people off assistance if they have a substance abuse problem and do not get treatment.

In fact, last year an average of 2300 families were sanctioned per month, and around 3700 families each month completely lost state assistance.  Not all of these families were sanctioned or terminated due to substance abuse - these numbers include all reasons for reduction or loss of assistance, including not meeting job search requirements.  But it shows we're serious about ensuring people play by the rules.

Adding an actual drug test would only add cost and bureaucracy - neither of which is in the taxpayers' best interests.  And since the majority of TANF recipients are children or families with children, sanctions and terminations have a very real effect on child poverty in our state.  We already have over 27,000 homeless children in our schools. 

Last week, House Early Learning & Human Services Committee chair Rep. Ruth Kagi went on TVW's The Impact to discuss the issue of drug testing TANF recipients.  You can view the entire segment here, but she makes her main points in the clip below:

Read this story in Spanish.