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House approves bill extending pilot program to drug test TANF applicants

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates Wednesday approved the bill extending the pilot program to drug test applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families through 2026.

The bill is SB 387. The pilot program was set to expire this year but the Department of Health and Human Resources suspended it in March 2020 through December because of the pandemic, so DHHR asked for a one-year extension. A House Health Committee amendment changed it to run through 2026.

The three-year pilot began in 2017; the Senate version of the bill would extend it through Dec. 31, 2022. There have been 131 positive tests since 2017. Some of those refused treatment; some started but dropped out. One person completed treatment, but 95 of the 131 sought treatment independently through Medicaid.

The program has 6,059 people enrolled, with 4,534 of those being children. The program has cost $33,054 to run, so far. Of the 131 positive tests, 61 were positive for marijuana only.

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, was among the opponents.

“This is something very near and dear to my heart,” said said, noting she’s been a TANF recipient twice.

“You’re going to let the parents go through drug screenings and the children, we’re going to kick them like a can,” she said, adding the program offers no counseling for the kids and is presumptuous. “I wasn’t sitting on my behind being lazy, and I sure as heck wasn’t getting high.”

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said the program singles out the poor. “The disease of addiction knows no socioeconomic boundaries.”

The program hasn’t been a good use of public funds, Pushkin said. “Who are we to determine who is most worthy of our help?”

Defending the bill, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said, “We don’t want our tax dollars being used for illegal drugs, very, very simple. … There has to be an element of personal responsibility somewhere.”

Education chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, who previously chaired Health, said DHHR reported when the pilot began that up to 15,000 people a year came in from out of state to get the benefits then left to return home. After the program launched, there was a significant reduction in number of coming in and taking money from West Virginians.

Current Heath chair Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, pointed out that no child’s eligibility is affected by a parent’s failure to pass the drug test.

The vote was 80-20, with three Democrats joining the majority, including Delegate Dave Pethtel, D-Wetzel. All other local delegates voted with the party. SB 387 returns to the Senate for amendment concurrence.

Other House action

The House adopted HCR 104 and sent it to the Senate. If also adopted by the Senate, it will expire all gubernatorial executive orders stemming from the pandemic – except for listed exemptions – that were in effect as of April 6.

There was some confusion over whether the resolution has teeth or was just in effect a strongly worded letter, but members learned they can terminate orders via a resolution.

Most of the discussion involved revoking the governor’s mask mandate. Pushkin said doing so sends a message we’re in the clear, when we’re not there yet.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer agreed, noting statements from COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh and other public health experts that masks are as effective as vaccines.

The vote was 76-24, with Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, joining the Democrats to vote no.

The House also adopted SJR 4 which, if passed by both houses and approved by the voters, would eliminate a clause from the state Constitution that prohibits the state from granting charters of incorporation to churches and denominations.

A similar clause in Virginia law was ruled unconstitutional in federal court in 2002, and in West Virginia, the provision has been ignored since 2003.

The vote was 97-2, with one member of each party voting no. All local delegates voted for it. It goes back to the Senate for amendment concurrence.

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