Progress report on North Carolina’s drug testing for welfare law

Drug testing for welfare
Updated: Feb. 20, 2017 at 10:24 AM EST
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(Micah Smith | WBTV)
(Micah Smith | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - In 2013, North Carolina lawmakers passed a law requiring state temporary cash assistance recipients to go through drug screening to receive their benefits.

WBTV has spent the past couple months digging through state records and found out just how many welfare recipients have tested positive for drugs.

From 2015 to 2016, nearly 30,000 residents applied for the state's Work First Program (or temporary cash assistance). Each applicant went through drug screening (interview, questionnaire, etc.) and based on the results of the screening, 400 applicants were required to get drug tested. Fifty applicants tested positive (about 12% of those required to get tested) which is less than 1% of those screened.

"What are we fundamentally trying to accomplish? I think that simply stated is that the taxpayer wants to get the value for their dollar," said North Carolina State Representative Craig Horn Roughly $345,000 of taxpayer money is set aside for the program and the department has used about $11,000 so far.

Some taxpayers think it's a waste.

"To me, they're going on a witch hunt. I'm not saying that there's not people out there who don't abuse the system but I just think it's a waste of money that we could be putting towards other things," said Jennifer Perry.

But other's think it's important.

"I feel that it is a good idea to drug test each individual before issuing any government funds," said Donna Jowers.

Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services Economic Services Director Men TChaas Ari said the law may need to be revisited.

"As a taxpayer if I were funding a program where only one percent of the population tested positively…I think I would explore other avenues," said Ari.

But lawmakers who supported the law aren't ready to give up on it yet.

"I'm not ready to say no more drug testing but. I'm also not ready to draw the conclusion that it's a great idea …the taxpayer…worked hard for this money they want to know that the government is spending money wisely and responsibly," said Horn.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 states have laws requiring drug testing for some forms of government assistance.

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