DSS leaders await fate of drug-testing bill
Local social service agency administrators are watching to see what happens to a challenge to a client drug-testing bill awaiting Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature.
Under the bill, applicants who are suspected by the DSS of engaging in drug use would have to submit to drug tests to receive benefits through Work First. Applicants would have to pay for the urine tests before receiving public assistance. Clients would be reimbursed for negative results.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, the N.C. Justice Center and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice sent a letter to McCrory, asking him to veto H.B. 392 because they say it is “government intrusion into the physical privacy” of DSS clients who have fallen on hard times. McCrory has indicated he has major concerns.
Work First provides temporary support for families as they work toward self-sufficiency. The challenge adds to the uncertainties for administrators.
“There is still a lot we do not know about this and won’t know until the state tells us what to do,” said Steve Hayes, assistant director of Guilford County DSS. “Does it mean we give clients a list of qualified drug screeners, or do we have the tests done on site, as we do for clients in child welfare? And do the tests apply just to the head of household, or everyone in the household? We need clarifications.”
DSS officials also would have to expand criminal background checks to search for people with outstanding felony warrants or probation violations. Counties would be allowed to fingerprint applicants suspected of being out-of-state parole violators.
“Would this be a nationwide search?” Hayes said. “We don’t know. We need to get a policy in place. All of this could take more staff time.”
Challenge: In 2011, a Florida law that mandated drug tests for all applicants of the state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was halted just months after it went into effect. The 11th District Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The ACLU of Florida challenged the law.
Tests: Just 2.6 percent of Florida applicants tested positive for illegal drugs, a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegal drugs.