AUGUSTA – The Department of Health and Human Services will begin drug testing convicted felons who receive cash welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday.
“We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction,” LePage said in a press release. “If someone tests positive for drugs, they are clearly putting their addiction ahead of their family’s needs,” he said.
If a person tests positive, the individual will have the option to be tested a second time, according to DHHS. Individuals may avoid termination of benefits by enrolling in a certain substance abuse programs. “Those who fail to disclose they are convicted drug felons will be found in violation of program rules and will face immediate termination of benefits,” DHHS said in a press release.
“Being drug-free is a critical aspect of moving away from poverty and toward self-sufficiency,” said LePage. “We must do all that we can to make ensure children’s needs are being met and that the TANF recipient has the best possible chance at economic independence.”
The new rule will be published this month and will follow the regular rule-making process, including a public hearing.
The TANF program was created in 1996 as a federal block grant program. Since that year, states have been permitted a wide degree of latitude when implementing the program, including the option of mandatory drug testing. Unlike the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps), TANF provides a cash benefit that can be spent on anything.
Several other states have enacted some version of the drug-testing requirement.
In January, The Maine Wire’s exclusive investigation of Maine’s TANF program uncovered wide-spread abuse of the program. In the past three years, the investigation found, Maine cash welfare has been accessed in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as at liquor stores, strip clubs, cigarette shops, gambling venues and amusement parks.
The new drug-testing requirement is the latest in a series of welfare reforms enacted by the LePage administration. Last month, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew announced that the state would no longer apply for a waiver from the Food Stamp programs federal work requirement, which means nearly 12,000 healthy and able Food Stamp recipients will be required to work or volunteer for at least 20 hours a week.