LITTLE ROCK, AR — A bill requiring some welfare recipients to take drug tests before getting benefits has taken another step toward becoming law.
A panel of lawmakers approved the requirements Thursday despite objections from opponents who say it’s a waste of money.
“When you receive benefits from the state of Arkansas, we want you to be drug free,” said St. Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale.
The program will cost is $1.7 million over two years. Based on what’s happened with similar programs in other states opponents say it’s not worth it.
“In Florida, only 2.5 percent of applicants who were tested actually tested positive,” said Marquita Little with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
The pilot program would drug test people receiving benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
It would target those living in counties bordering states with similar programs who are deemed suspicious after filling out a questionnaire.
“States have faced many years of lengthy and costly litigation,” Little said.
But lawmakers weren’t discouraged by the price tag or low number of positive tests in other states.
They say the benefits may be more subtle.
“Couldn’t you assume that drug testing is kind of a deterrent?” questioned St. Rep. Ken Henderson, R-Russellville.
The bill passed on a voice vote with little opposition despite claims it perpetuates false assumptions “that there’s a higher percentage of drug use among low-income families,” Little said.
Managers of TANF in Arkansas say the average family gets $200 per month on the program and stays on about a year.
The bill now heads to the house floor for a final vote before heading to the governor.