RALEIGH — A new North Carolina requiring drug testing for welfare recipients has seen implementation delayed until July 1, 2015, thanks to a vote in the N.C. House last week.
According to the Raleigh News and Observer, the delay comes about one week before county agencies would have been required to start drug testing of welfare applicants. N.C. House Bill 1133, a technical corrections bill, included language that delays the drug testing until July 1, 2015, instead of the original effective date of Aug. 1, according to The News and Observer.
Vickie Smith, director of the Bladen County Department of Social Services, said the law applies to those who participate in the Work First program.
“The big thing about it is, how are we going to fund it? If it comes back to the county to fund it, we’ve not included anything for that,” said Smith.
Kevin Howell, legal communications coordinator in the Office of Communications of the N.C. DHHS, said that as of Tuesday afternoon, funding still has not been allocated by the General Assembly for implementing the drug testing program. He added that funding for the program was included in the N.C. House budget bill, however, the state still has yet to adopt a final budget.
In a legislative report prepared by DHHS, regarding the implementation of the law shows the estimated costs to implement the program in North Carolina to be $666,344 in the first year based on a cost of $94 per drug test and the annual estimated cost for the ongoing program is estimated in the report to be $540,594. The report shows that there are about 71,298 applications and re-certifications based on program data from 2011-12. The report states that based on data from the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, about 3.9 percent of Work First recipients were referred for substance abuse counseling.
According to The News and Observer, the state Department of Health and Human Services is still in the process of writing the guidelines for the program.
Howell said, “Rules were approved by the Social Services Commission on June 25, and these rules are currently being reviewed by DHHS.”
Smith said there are many areas of the new mandate that DHHS has yet to clarify with county agencies. Smith said she did not yet have any information about the company or companies that would be utilized to carry out the drug testing mandate.
“Normally, like in the case of child abuse, we rely on mental health providers (for testing). It would not be one of our workers collecting the samples. That’s a large liability,” said Smith.
According to the legislative report, some counties have no drug testing centers and DHHS will have to contract for those services.
She said there still remains a lot of questions and procedures that need to be addressed by DHHS.
According to Session Law 2013-417, it is now required that welfare recipients be drug tested if a case worker suspects drug abuse. According to The News and Observer, under the new law, a welfare recipient who tests positive for controlled substances can not receive benefits for a period of one year. He or she may reapply for benefits in 30 days if they undergo substance abuse counseling through a DHHS approved program, according to The News and Observer.