Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin Signs Welfare Drug-Screening Bill

Wednesday, May 16th 2012, 5:29 pm
By: Tess Maune

The Oklahoma governor's office on Wednesday announced Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law House Bill 2388, which requires the state Department of Human Services to screen adults for drug use if they apply to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

If the applicant refuses a drug test or is found to be using drugs, they will be denied benefits.

The new law goes into effect on Nov. 1.

Applicants who test positive for illegal drug use and undergo substance abuse treatment can reapply for benefits six months after the date of their denial. Child-only cases and underage parents would be exempt from drug screenings. The bill also allows for an alternative payee to be named when a parent has been denied benefits.

So, now, you have to say no to drugs before the government will cut you a check.

"It should be a small fee to do something like that," McAlester resident Rick Giacomo said. "You're getting free help. I mean, why couldn't you be right and pass and drug test?" 

Giacomo is a father of two who receives benefits from the state.

He supports the new law, especially when there are kids at stake.

"It's not cool," Giacomo said. "You got kids; I mean, there's more to life than doing drugs. Get out there work and sweat a little bit."

Under the law, DHS can test anyone they believe is using drugs.

Markeon Harley also receives help from the state.

He says the solution is simple for those who are concerned about the new law.

"The government is here to help you, not help you get high," he said.

In a statement, Gov. Fallin says it's also about protecting children.

"Drug addiction and illegal drug use contribute to child abuse and child neglect," she said. "They also make it difficult to find and hold a job."

After Utah, Georgia and Tennessee, Oklahoma became the fourth state this year to approve a drug-screening bill.

Michigan became the first state to require testing in welfare reform, but its law was ruled unconstitutional in 2003 by the Michigan courts.

Florida approved a law last year requiring drug screening, but a federal judge blocked it temporarily. Arizona and Missouri  also approved similar laws in 2011.

Gov. Fallin also said House Bill 2388 "will help ensure welfare checks are not being used to pay for drugs. Hard-working taxpayers shouldn't be asked to subsidize drug abuse, and this bill will help to ensure they are not.

"Additionally, HB 2388 helps to preserve the mission of state-funded welfare – to provide a social safety net helping the unemployed and needy get back on their feet, find work and support their families. Unfortunately, drug abuse prevents many recipients of welfare from achieving any of these goals. ...It is important for drug users and those with substance abuse problems to seek treatment rather than simply being handed a check from Oklahoma taxpayers."

The bill was sponsored by Senator David Holt and Representatives Guy Liebmann, John Bennett, Sean Roberts, Lisa Billy and Steve Vaughn.