Commentary

Maine Town Postpones Plan for Welfare Drug-Testing

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Madawaska has unfortunately decided to postpone its common-sense proposal to randomly drug test welfare recipients and ensure our tax dollars are used in a fiscally responsible manner.

This drug-testing plan – which has already received support from Governor LePage – would be a much needed step towards preventing state resources from fueling Maine’s burgeoning drug crisis. It would require all General Assistance (GA) program applicants in the town to pass random drug screenings in order to receive any benefits.

However, officials in Madawaska announced on Wednesday they will delay making a full recommendation on this plan, as they need time to verify whether or not the plan would be legal.

The GA program is a catch-all welfare program which is administered by localities and funded by the state. It provides recipients with vouchers which can be used for housing, food and other basic necessities. Able-bodied individuals in Madawaska who receive GA benefits are already required to perform community service. By doing so, these individuals become employees of the town, and are subject to the same drug testing rules as all other town employees.

But Town Manager Ryan Pelletier has proposed extending these drug testing requirements to all GA recipients – not just those who have the ability to participate in the workfare program. Last year, Madawaska gave GA benefits to 45 people, but only two performed the necessary community service.

This proposal echoes similar sentiments made throughout the years by Governor LePage, who has long promoted drug testing and work-requirement measures for welfare recipients.

“Ensuring our welfare programs are helping those who are truly needy and willing to work toward economic stability is important,” said Governor LePage in announcing his support for Madawaska’s plan.

Last year, Governor LePage initiated a drug screening program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients who have been previously convicted of a drug-related offense. Any individual who tests positive for illicit substances is required to undergo drug treatment in order to continue receiving welfare benefits. Current federal law prohibits people from receiving TANF benefits if they have a previous felony drug conviction. However, Maine was just one of five states which had completely opted out of this ban.

The Governor has also pushed for mandatory drug screening for all TANF applicants, but has received stiff opposition from liberal lawmakers. A 2015 bill which would have instituted this requirement died between chambers after Democrats came out strongly against it.

But not surprisingly, drug testing for welfare programs has proven to be immensely popular. A resounding 81% of respondents to a Quinnipiac University poll supported a Florida initiative which mandated drug testing for welfare all recipients. And these types of measure have also been shown to be sound public policies. They not only result in significant cost-savings, but they also help reduce the chance that taxpayer dollars are subsidizing the use of illegal drugs.

So with many towns and cities in Maine struggling under our growing drug epidemic, let’s hope this bold and innovative plan comes to fruition.

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