Kansas proposal would drug test benefit recipients - KCTV5

Kansas proposal would drug test benefit recipients

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Kansas would require people receiving cash assistance from the state to take drug tests and cut off unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail tests administered by potential employers under a proposal being drafted by a legislative leader.

Senate Vice President Jeff King confirmed Friday that he's working on the measure. The conservative Independence Republican, who also serves as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he expects to have a bill drafted and introduced within two weeks.

His drug-testing requirement would apply to applicants for and adults participating in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Also, prospective employers would be required to tell the Department of Labor when a job seeker who's receiving unemployment benefits fails a company drug test or refuses to take one, so that the state can cut off the benefits.

His proposal already has the endorsement of conservative Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick, of Stilwell. The Democratic leaders in both chambers also said they're open to the idea.

King said his proposal isn't designed to punish people who receive benefits from the state so much as to identify those with potential drug problems so that they can receive help.

For Kansas City, KS, resident John Bond, his unemployment check he receives each month is what is helping his family survive after he was laid off last June.

"They are keeping my family going right now, and I'm the only income bearer," Bond said.

Bond said he is perfectly fine with the new proposal.

"You should anyway because you want to be clean and clear, especially if you want to find another job," he said.

Somer Carpenter, also a KCK resident, feels a drug test is not going to make a difference.

"It's those who don't want to do it that has something to hide," she said.

Others, like Lynette Cawthon, feel they shouldn't be harassed to come get something that's theirs.

"I wouldn't want to do nothing like that," Cawthon said.

"The reason why we are doing the unemployment benefits in this proposal is that Congress, only 11 months ago, authorized states to do drug testing for unemployment benefits. So this is a new area that most states are exploring," King said.

King said his proposal covering job seekers is similar to laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi.

Kansas requires people receiving unemployment benefits to look for work, and King said most employers in his home county require applicants to take drug tests. Thus, King said, someone can look for a job, not get it because of failing a drug test and keep receiving unemployment benefits.

King said the federal government hasn't said how states will pay for the drug testing program.

So to get around it, his idea is to have private companies notify the Department of Labor when a job seeker has either refused to take the drug test or has failed it.

The state would then stop giving that person an unemployment check until they have completed a drug treatment program.

"I do want to emphasize this measure is not punitive. We are not trying to hurt people or punish people. We are trying to identify folks that need help. And get the help to them as quickly as we can to get them back in the workforce as quickly as we can," King said.

The state Department for Children and Families has the legal authority to do drug testing of cash assistance recipients, but spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said, "It historically has been used very rarely."

She said the department is not involved in King's proposal, other than to provide him information. The program provided about $42 million in cash benefits for about 32,000 Kansas residents, including children, during the fiscal year ending June 2012.

Conservative legislators have raised the possibility of drug tests for cash assistance recipients periodically in the past but have faced questions about the potential costs of the testing and follow-up drug treatment if it were offered by the state. Also, some advocates for the poor have raised privacy issues.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said they're willing to consider King's proposals, if they're coupled with genuine efforts to provide drug treatment.

But Hensley said if the legislation is punitive, "then I would have some concerns about it."

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