Indiana lawmaker seeks to drop drug testing for welfare recipients, asks for further study

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INDIANAPOLIS — The lawmaker behind a proposal to drug test certain welfare recipients backed away from the idea Tuesday, instead calling for further study on the issue.

Democratic Rep. Terry Goodin of Crothersville proposed the testing requirement in a last-minute amendment on the House floor last week, claiming it would help fight a recent HIV outbreak in southern Indiana. He asked conference committee members Tuesday to remove the provision and require a study into Indiana's drug abuse problems this summer.

Goodin said he began to reconsider the idea after learning last week that its impact on drug use could be minimal, but said he still felt the proposal was a win because it spurred serious conversations about the issue, which has been considered several times in recent years.

"Mission accomplished. We declare victory," he said. "We're going to get these folks who need the help, the help they need."

Indiana's proposal would apply only to those who receive cash benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, specifically people who have been identified as high risk for drug abuse or have been charged with a drug-related crime. If recipients fail a drug test, they would have an opportunity to receive counseling, but several failed tests after counseling would make them ineligible for welfare benefits for at least three months.

More than a dozen other states, including Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, have either passed or are considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Indiana Family and Social Services Administration officials report that only about 3,800 adults receive TANF payments. In Scott County, where the HIV outbreak is centered, only nine adults receive TANF payments. Another 60 more receive benefits on behalf of 93 children.

Senate health committee chairwoman Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she will discuss the issue with Republican caucus members before making a decision but had serious concerns about its cost: about $1.8 million to implement testing.

House Health Committee Chairman Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said he supports further study, especially if the measure could be seen as discriminatory or punitive against a certain group. He also expressed concerns about "potential unintended consequences" that could negatively impact children receiving benefits through an adult.

"We all want accountability from people who are receiving benefits but I'm not sure this is the right approach," he said. "In fact I'm pretty sure it's not the right approach."

Committee members face an April 29 deadline to reach an agreement.

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