Maine To Begin Testing Convicted Drug Felons Applying For Welfare

By McCarton Ackerman 08/07/14

Unlike other states testing all welfare recipients, Maine will focus only on felons.

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Maine will soon become the latest state to drug test welfare recipients, but the focus will be exclusively on convicted drug felons.

The state’s Department of Health and Human Services has reportedly spent the last several months designing a drug-testing program for convicted felons, with the emphasis being on treatment rather than punitive consequences. The proposed rules will call for anyone who applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to disclose whether they have a prior drug conviction. If so, they will be tested. Any individual who tests positive can avoid termination of their benefits by enrolling in an approved substance abuse program.

“Maine people expect their tax dollars to be spent supporting our most vulnerable citizens—children, the elderly and the disabled,” said Republican state Gov. Paul LePage in a statement. “We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction. TANF is a short-term benefit that assists families and children with the basic necessities. If someone tests positive for drugs, they are clearly putting their addiction ahead of their family’s needs."

LePage had previously tried to push for drug testing all welfare recipients, but Democrats opposed the measure because TANF recipients are overwhelmingly children and they believed the measure demonized people on welfare. The provision for testing convicted drug felons has been in effect since 2012 but not formally enforced, leaving many to accuse LePage of choosing to only activate it during an election year.

“This law has been on the books for years, yet LePage hasn’t enforced it,” said Maine House Speaker Mark Eves. “We need leaders who are serious about solving problems and enforcing the law, not simply scoring political points in an election year at a time when Maine’s economy is lagging.”

State TANF data from last June shows that there are 7,119 cases and 11,588 children receiving benefits, but it’s unclear how many could be affected by the new testing measures. Eleven states currently have some form of drug testing for TANF recipients.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.