Some welfare applicants and beneficiaries would be required to pass a drug test and receive counseling to receive public assistance under a controversial bill being considered by the Virginia General Assembly.
Under the proposal, which has been approved by the Senate, people applying for or in the state's job-training program, which is required to receive welfare, would be questioned about substance abuse. Those thought to be abusing drugs could be required to take a drug test.
If they failed the test or refused to comply, they would be required to attend and complete a drug treatment program to ensure that they continued to receive federal benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. If they failed a second time, they would lose their benefits. A stricter version of the bill, which would have revoked benefits immediately, passed the House initially but was tabled.
The state asks welfare applicants to allow caseworkers to screen them, but they can decline. The Senate bill would make the initial drug screenings mandatory.
"It seemed to be a concern of many of the social services personnel in my district," said Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell), the bill's sponsor. "We just thought that there was no place for those who receive public benefits and use them on illegal activities."
Puckett said the issue is a particular problem for social workers and drug counselors across the rustic stretches of his native southwestern Virginia who have struggled to ease the impact of drug abuse and poverty, exacerbated by the region's struggling economy.