Senate Passes Responsible Welfare Legislation

ATLANTA (March 27, 2012) –The Georgia Senate passed HB 861, the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, today by a vote of 36 to 15. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Michael Harden and carried in the Senate by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), this legislation requires recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug screening to receive welfare benefits.

HB 861 is the companion legislation to the Senate’s version of the Social Reasonability and Accountability Act, or SB 292.

“The passage of HB 861 today is the culmination of several months of hard work as members of both the House and Senate worked to pass this historic piece of legislation,” said Sen. Albers. “The reason I worked on SB 292, which is identical legislation to HB 861, was to establish a new precedent for how government welfare programs are run and challenge the status quo as it relates to the overall perception of government entitlement programs. Ultimately, TANF benefits were always intended to provide families with a “hand up” and not a “hand out.” This common sense legislation provides for families in need and ensures that hard earned taxpayer money isn’t being diverted to drug use.”

Under this legislation, which was merged with the original language from SB 292 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the drug testing requirement was modeled after the tests required by the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs or other professionally valid procedures. If enacted into law, this test would require a swab test in lieu of urinalysis.

TANF applicants who are not currently enrolled in Medicaid will be responsible for covering the drug-testing application fee, which could run up to 17 dollars. However, if these individuals test negative for controlled substances, they will be fully reimbursed for all expenses as part of their first benefits check.

In addition, TANF applicants enrolled in Medicaid will be required to pay the $17 drug-testing application fee and will not be eligible for direct TANF reimbursement.

As part of the bill’s provisions, all TANF applicants must be drug tested no later than 48 hours after their application has been approved by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Under this legislation, individuals who test positive for controlled substances will be ineligible for TANF benefits under the following restrictions:

  • If an applicant tests positive, the individual will be ineligible to reapply for benefits for one month.
  • If a second positive result is produced, the applicant will be ineligible to receive benefits for three months.
  • For a third and subsequent positive result, the applicant will be ineligible for benefits for one year.

If an applicant is found ineligible after subsequent drug tests, the individual may reapply after six months if they successfully complete a substance abuse program.

Recent studies have shown that individuals who engage in drug abuse are less likely to maintain employment and, as a result, remain on welfare-related programs for longer periods of time. In a study surveying New Jersey TANF recipients, individuals who abused drugs stayed on welfare for an average of 12 years, versus 5.8 years for those who did not.

For two parent families, only one parent must comply with drug screening requirements. However, teen parents who do not currently live with a parent or adult caretaker will be responsible to comply with all drug testing requirements. In addition, dependent children under the age of 18 are exempt from these requirements.

If a parent fails the state mandated drug-testing and is deemed ineligible to receive TANF benefits, the eligibility of a dependent child will not be affected. For these instances, another individual can be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.

According to this legislation, if an applicant fails a drug test, the DHS must provide them with a list of substance abuse providers, although the state will not be responsible for providing or paying for treatment.

Exemptions for mandatory drug testing will be made for individuals who are considered by the Department of Human Services to be significantly impaired due to a physical, mental or developmental disability. In addition, persons enrolled in a Medicaid enhanced primary care case management program will also be exempt from this requirement.

In an effort to protect the privacy of welfare applicants, all screening results will remain confidential and exempt from public records law.

HB 861 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

March 27, 2012

For Information Contact:
Natalie Dale, Director
Shawna Mercer,Sr. Communications Specialist