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Drug tests ahead

12/27/2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Kansas is set to begin a drug-testing program for some welfare recipients similar to one in Missouri that cost approximately $500,000 that has uncovered fewer than two dozen people trying to abuse the system.

After eight months and 636 drug test requests, 20 people tested positive in Missouri this year. Approximately 200 others refused to comply. There are nearly 32,000 people in Missouri who have applied for assistance since testing began, the Kansas City Star reported.

"I think it's just astronomical," said Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis County Democrat. "It's a horrible waste of state resources."

The Kansas law cuts off benefits for welfare recipients who are reasonably suspected of drug use and test positive. The benefits can be restored when a recipient completes a drug treatment and job skills program paid for with federal welfare funds. A second failed test results in a yearlong loss of benefits, while a third positive test results in losing benefits permanently.

A third party can apply for benefits on behalf of children whose parents fail the drug test.

Kansas is not expected to start testing welfare recipients until July. The state estimates the Kansas program will cost nearly $1 million to implement, including approximately $600,000 for one-time computer system upgrades. The state projects it will save $700,000 by temporarily or permanently denying assistance to those who fail.

At least nine states have welfare drug tests. Supporters said it prevents people from buying illegal drugs with public money and deters substance abuse.

"People are taking a test and being held accountable for taking state aid," said Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville, Mo., Republican.

Critics said the poor are no more likely to use drugs than anyone else and question the cost effectiveness of the scheme.

"I have not seen any kind of credible data to this point to suggest these kinds of programs help people who are on drugs," said Jason Williamson, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's Criminal Law Reform Project.

Kansas Sen. Jeff King, who authored the testing plan, said some people will not apply for benefits if they think they will test positive. He said that needs to be considered in evaluating any drug testing plan.