A drug testing program for Arkansans seeking help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, is one step closer to becoming law. A House committee on Tuesday passed the bill to extend a two year trial run indefinitely.
Since the new restriction on benefits was adopted 300 people have self-identified as illegal drug users on benefits forms. But according to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services only two people have actually taken a drug screen and tested positive in the program that benefits 1,781 families.* The total number of people covered has hovered around 9-10,000 the past few years.
Republican Representative Robin Lundstrum considers that a success.
“When we originally came to you it was said the program would cost $1.2 million. It’s not even close. The whole program, all in, we’re at close to $30,000. That’s it,” said Lundstrum. “I hope we only catch a few people and we can redirect them to [drug rehab] help.”
Democratic State Representative Fred Love of Little Rock found that math disconcerting.
“If it is two people that’s $15,000 per person to defer the cost of an average person which is, I guess, the benefit may be $300 or $400 dollars,” said Love. “That’s not a good model.”
Republican State Representative Jack Ladyman of Jonesboro expressed his personal belief that the drug screen acts as a deterrent to drug use and that the effectiveness of the program needs to also be measured by those who aren’t testing positive for drug use.
Marquita Little with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families testified that there’s not any evidence to back up Lundstrum’s claim that those who were barred from assistance for drug use ever got any help.
“It’s very concerning and questionable whether people are actually able to get the treatment that they need,” said Little. “We have not effectively built up that portion of the healthcare system in the state.”
Little also warned of unintended consequences to children when parents are cut off from assistance meant for families. Lundstrum argued that if one parent is cut off due to the drug screen perhaps another parent or guardian who doesn’t use drugs could apply for the benefit.
The bill now heads to the full House. It’s already passed the Senate.
*Rep. Lundstrum claims eight people have tested positive. The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services tells KUAR only two people have failed the drug test.