Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hutchinson administration orders expansion of drug testing of welfare recipients

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2016 at 7:33 AM

click to enlarge EXPANDS DRUG TESTING: Gov. Asa Hutchinson. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • EXPANDS DRUG TESTING: Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
I've been supplied a copy of a memo that indicates the Hutchinson administration has expanded what the legislature envisioned as a limited pilot program to statewide application — drug testing of all participants in the welfare program that provides Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

A 2015 law authorized a "pilot program" for the 3,000 recipients of TANF assistance.

But Betty Guhman, an adviser to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, wrote in a note accompanying notice of a change of plans:

 The original plan was to start the program as pilots in several offices that border other states. Subsequently we decided on a statewide rollout, rather than pilots.
The memo, which follows in full, pitches this as a beneficial way to identify potential drug abusers and provide them treatment to make them work-ready. It says little about the cost of implementing the program and the reality that "failure" of a drug test includes a positive test for, example, a small amount of marijuana. In theory, prescription drugs won't count, if properly disclosed.

It makes a bare reference to the fact that such programs have been used in other states with generally dismal results — in Florida it was costly to the state in legal fees.

This program is more about "optics" — or public relations — than anything else, as evidenced by how the memo frames it.  It fits with Hutchinson's current marketing of  continuation of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion by talking about how punitive he intends to make it on the deadbeat welfare class. They will pay for alms from the state, he insists. This drug-testing of welfare deadbeats is more of the same.

Perhaps we should drug- and alcohol-test legislators before they pick up their recently almost-tripled paychecks.

In any case:

Here's the law that put this in motion.
Here's the implementation plan.
PS: I think the legislature got snookered. The statutory language allows statewide application, though it places an emphasis on border counties. I think it reasonable to conclude this was the plan all along.

Read on for Guhman's memo and the Orwellian description of how a mandatory drug-testing plan is actually about "making the right choices" for families (you'd think a former U.S. attorney like Hutchinson had heard of the 4th and 5th Amendmenst):

TANF Applicants/Recipients Benefits of Making the Right Choices for their Family:

The Arkansas Department of Workforce Services in Arkansas offers various work readiness services for parents in low income and needy families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs. The TANF program currently serves on an average around 3000 work able individuals. Through Act 1205 of 2015, these individuals could benefit by not just identifying if substance abuse is preventing them from getting a job, but if it is a problem, then, they will be able to explore potential treatment options.

As a first step in helping TANF recipients get job ready, all work able individuals are required to go through a comprehensive work readiness assessment process. This assessment process helps identify barriers that maybe be preventing them from getting or retaining a job. A wide variety of factors are considered as part of this assessment process: education, employment history, physical and mental health, domestic violence, child care and parenting, and substance abuse.

Act 1205 of 2015 authorizes a two year pilot project that requires potential work able recipients of Transitional Employment Assistance (TEA) or Work Pays programs to be screened for possible substance abuse prior to program enrollment, and becoming eligible to receive temporary financial assistance. Based on the substance abuse screening results, the individuals may be required to take additional steps to address this work barrier. These steps include initial and confirmation drug tests, and if required, explore and potentially participate in substance abuse treatment plans.

We expect this pilot program to provide us various data points and metrics. These reports will provide us empirical data to understand the role of substance abuse as a barrier that is preventing Arkansans from becoming productive members of the workforce.

Various states have implemented similar initiatives with varying results. What is unique though with this implementation in the State of Arkansas is our strategy to be upfront about this challenge, take remedial actions if necessary, and embrace personal responsibility.

The Department of Workforce Services (DWS) is working closely with the Department of Human Services (DHS), Senator Johnson (bill sponsor), and the Governor’s office to ensure a smooth statewide roll out.

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