Just One Person Failed Welfare Drug Test in Maine

By Victoria Kim 08/20/15

Some states continue to throw good money after bad with these failed testing programs.

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Just one person has tested positive for drug use since Maine began screening recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in April.

The program, which tests those with prior drug felony convictions, had just 15 recipients scheduled to be screened through June, which is the latest month for which data acquired by the Associated Press was available.

Of the 15 who were to be tested, 13 lost their assistance because they failed to show up to take either the screening assessment or the subsequent urinalysis that is administered to those who fail the screening, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Advocates for the poor are concerned that people are being kicked off of assistance for simply not showing up.

“The purpose of laws like this is to help people into treatment or to identify people who are using drugs,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, public policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “What we are seeing, which is what we suspected, is that people are being denied benefits for other reasons.”

Amarasingham said it’s “not clear at all that people are skipping drug tests because they are drug users,” but that it’s possible they missed the screenings because they weren’t able to find child care or they believe it violated their right to privacy.

However, Bethany Hamm, director of the DHHS Office for Family Independence, disagrees. Hamm said it’s “likely that many people are not showing up because they know they will fail.” According to Hamm, the DHHS tries to work with recipients, allowing them to choose the day and time for the test, and to reschedule if necessary. The DHHS also foots any travel costs to any of the 50 lab sites across Maine.

The lone individual who tested positive for drug use lost their assistance, but has the option to keep receiving benefits if they enter a substance abuse program, one of the ways Hamm says the program is helping families get “back into a place where they can achieve self-sufficiency and get out of poverty.”

Despite the embarrassing headline, the DHHS says the program is just getting started, estimating that still 100 more recipients of the roughly 5,700 TANF cases have prior drug felony convictions and will eventually be screened. In the meantime, Hamm says the department is operating “methodically” to avoid testing the wrong people.

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