Testing May Help Curb System Abuse
Political correctness simply cannot be permitted to stand in the way of attacking West Virginia’s drug abuse epidemic on all fronts. Fortunately, state legislators seem to agree.
In 2016, lawmakers approved a three-year pilot program to screen applicants of a major public assistance program for drug use. Federal officials have just approved the plan, which involves Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
People applying for TANF benefits now must fill out 14-item questionnaires on drug use. Among the questions are, “Have you ever used drugs other than those required for medical reasons?” and “Are you able to stop using drugs when you want to?”
Officials use the questionnaires to determine whether individual TANF applicants are suspected of illegally abusing drugs. Those who fit the category are required to be tested for drugs.
Applicants who test positive are referred to substance abuse and job skills programs.
Such initiatives have many critics, who insist the programs stereotype poor people unfairly.
But substance abuse experts say one factor in driving people to use certain drugs illegally is a feeling of economic hopelessness. In other words, the very people applying for TANF benefits are those most likely to be victims of addiction.
Identifying those people and getting them help is important.
That said, sending TANF applicants who test positive for illegal drugs to a few classes will be a waste of money. Along with the testing program must go an investment – and it will cost money – in providing effective help for drug addicts.
Within a few months, it should be known whether the testing program is actually helping people – or merely identifying those facing substance abuse problems.
When legislators meet for their annual regular session early next year, they should ask state TANF officials for a progress report on the testing program. If it requires additional resources, lawmakers – perhaps working with the federal government – should attempt to provide them.