Archive for Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Few Kansas welfare applicants tested for drugs

December 3, 2014

— The new practice of drug testing welfare applicants in Kansas is off to a slow start.

After four months, only 20 applicants have been tested, with four testing positive. Five refused the tests. State officials predict the numbers will increase as staffers grow more comfortable in referring welfare applicants for drug testing.

Theresa Freed, a spokeswoman for the state's children and families department, which administers the drug-testing program, said it's important to note that this is the first year, The Kansas City Star reported.

Under the law, which was passed in 2013 and took effect July 1, only suspected drug users who are applying for benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program were to be tested. Factors like a recent drug-related arrest can trigger the testing requirement. The law also was intended to connect residents to treatment and job training.

Kansas Senate President Jeff King, the bill's primary sponsor, shrugged off the early results.

"This is something that is going to take time to implement across the state," the Independence Republican said. "It is impossible to fully evaluate a program that is only four months old. We want to give it time to administratively work."

Kansas is one of at least 11 states with laws requiring drug testing for public-assistance applicants or recipients.

Missouri has been testing applicants since March and has conducted 655 tests so far. Almost 70 tested positive, but about 700 refused the test and were disqualified for benefits. Nearly 70 tests were conducted in the program's first four months.

In Utah, 84 drug tests were carried out in its first four months.

Critics of Kansas' drug-testing bill suspect the four-month results are a sign of an understaffed state department under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.

"We have pared these agencies back to the marrow," said state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat. "They don't have a lot of people hanging around who have time to implement some of these programs that we pass."

Freed said the department supports the reasons behind the drug-testing bill. She said it's a process of "learning what works and what doesn't."

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