LAURINBURG — Applicants for Work First, a welfare program that provides money and job training, now have to pass a drug test before receiving benefits.
The new requirement began on Monday.
Work First is North Carolina’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Under the program, parents get short-term training and other services that help them find jobs and make them self-sufficient. Most families move out of the program in about two years.
The Scotland County Department of Social Services has a screening tool that people complete when applying for the Work First program, according to Felisa Lockey, Work First employment program supervisor. The tool is required for every applicant where the parent is on the application.
“If an applicant scores above the level set, they will be sent for a drug screening. Applicants that have a felony drug conviction will be screened as well,” Lockey said.
Lockey added that current field of Work First applicants do not meet the criteria for drug screening.
The bill, which became law in September 2013 after legislators overrode Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto, requires local social services departments to mandate a drug test for most Work First applicants and beneficiaries. Those who pass the screening would be reimbursed for its cost, while those failing could be reimbursed for the cost of the test if they successfully complete a treatment program for substance abuse.
State Rep. Ken Goodman of Rockingham said it makes sense to test for drugs.
“It’s just seems common sense,” Goodman said. “If someone is taking drugs, they shouldn’t be eligible to receive benefits.”
Opponents argue that it is an unfair not to test everyone who is applying to participate in a state or federal government benefits program; the cost to some individuals would result in financial hardship; and the state would find the cost of testing all applicants to far outweigh the number of individuals found to be substance abusers.
“All costs are covered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, the cost will not be a direct expense to the county or agency,” Lockey said.
State Rep. Garland Pierce, of Wagram, voted in 2013 to sustain the governor’s veto. He argued that drug-testing of one group of benefit recipients and not others was unfair. He also warned against the cost of drug testing to the state.
Pierce has since said that he hopes the legislation will help to weed out those benefit recipients whose substance abuse problems could eventually hurt children and other family members.
If an applicant scores above the level set by the department or if they have had a felony drug conviction, they are referred to a substance abuse professional.
“Now that it’s the law of the land, I hope it will work to strengthen our families,” Pierce said. “Maybe it will work to get help for those abusing drugs before it becomes a problem for the individual or family members.”
The tests will be performed at the Scotland Urgent Care at 500 Lauchwood Drive.
Robesonian reporter Bob Shiles contributed to this article