Policy: Entitlements

Virginia Senate blocks drug testing for welfare participants

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Entitlements

By the narrowest of margins, the Virginia Senate on Monday killed a bill that would have required some welfare participants to undergo a drug test before receiving benefits.

Though a similar measure passed the Senate last year, the drug testing bill died 20-19 Monday in an evenly divided chamber. Republican Sen. Larry Blevins did not vote.

The bill required the Department of Social Services to conduct a preliminary screenings of participants in the state's welfare-to-work program before distributing benefits. If any red flags came up during the screening process, the participant would undergo a drug test.

A failed drug test would mean a loss of benefits for a year. But unlike last year's unsuccessful bill, this proposal provided an outlet for children to receive benefits even if the parent failed a test. It also allowed for benefits to be restored if the beneficiary completed a drug rehabilition program.

But Democrats called the bill unconstitutional, pointing to efforts in Florida and Michigan that did not survive legal challenges, and noting that fiscal statements showed the state was more likely to lose money doing the testing. They said it was an unfair to stigmatize low-income residents as more likely to use drugs than other people.

"Drug tests for welfare recipients are demeaning," said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. "What are poor people singled out for testing? Why is it assumed that poor and only the poor are using drugs?"

Republicans, however, said the state should ensure tax dollars are helping the poor and not supporting drug habits.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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