Four people are dead in two separate accidents in Central Ohio. In Pataskala, investigators say a head-on collision on East Broad took three lives. One vehicle crossed the center line. Early this morning, the driver of a pick-up truck was killed when he slammed into a tree in a residential area south of Route 104 [...]
Advocates For Poor Push Back Against Welfare Drug Test Bill
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Advocates for low-income Ohioans are firing back against a plan to drug test people who apply for the stateâ€™s welfare program. The lawmaker proposing the bill says itâ€™s in the best interest of the applicants and their families, but a coalition says the plan unfairly targets poor Ohioans.
Republican State Senator Tim Schaffer from Lancaster wants to create a pilot program that would implement a drug screening for applicants of the stateâ€™s welfare programâ€¦ also known as Ohio Works First.
Schaffer says the state would create some type of screening to determine if thereâ€™s a reasonable cause to test an applicant for drug use. If that individual tests positive then they would be sent to treatment and the assistance would be forwarded to their families.
Schaffer says the plan achieves three goals: treating substance abuse, making sure the assistance is used for the right reasons, and protecting taxpayer money so itâ€™s not spent on drugs.
â€œThe more Iâ€™ve learned about how many of these kids are in these families that need this help desperately,” Schaeffer says, “I think itâ€™s almost a crime for us to bury our heads in the sand and say â€˜This isnâ€™t…the drug abuse isnâ€™t happening in these families.â€™ This is an opportunity to identify them, get them the help, and Iâ€™ve just become absolutely passionate about it.â€
A coalition of groups geared towards helping Ohioâ€™s less fortunate say this program unfairly targets low-income people and categorizes them as the majority of drug users.
â€œDrug use is a problem and itâ€™s a problem for people all over the state and across the country but it is not primarily a low-income issue,” says Eugene King, director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center.
Among his organizationâ€™s many concerns is that the applicants may lie about their drug use for the sake of getting assistance for their family.
But lying on the application would be met with steep penalties. Heâ€™s also afraid drug tests could result in discouraging people from applying altogether.
King denies the argument that drug testing is needed because these people are applying for taxpayer assistance. He counters that everyone benefits one way or another from public dollars, using the examples of public education and mortgage interest reduction.
â€œYou know I havenâ€™t heard anyone suggest that we should test people receiving the benefits of other programs which frankly have a much higher cost,” King says.
Joel Potts is executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directorsâ€™ Association. He agrees that drug abuse is not a problem thatâ€™s exclusively related to people of low-income.
But he says there is a problem within this group of people that must be addressed.
â€œWe struggle everyday trying to help people overcome barriers to get into employment and if theyâ€™ve got a problem with substance abuseâ€”the worst thing we can do is ignore it or pretend itâ€™s not there or going along not knowing whatâ€™s really there.
“From an administrative perspective the more information we have the better service we can provide that individual,” Potts says.
Potts says that his group remains neutral to the bill but adds that he welcomes any attempt at trying to gather the data on drug abuse among low-income families.
â€œOne of the issues that always comes up and itâ€™s a constant struggle for us and nobody can answer is â€˜how big of a problem is it?â€™ We donâ€™t test for it now, we donâ€™t have any real tangible proof short of going out and having some type of testâ€”you donâ€™t know what you donâ€™t know.â€
The bill would set aside $100,000 for drug treatment, which opponents say is not enough. At the end of the proposed two-year program, the state would be required to complete a report.
Schaffer and Potts hope that report shows how much money the program could save and how many people in this group need help with drug addiction.
Democratic Senator Nina Turner from Cleveland joins the opposition in saying that this places unfair suspicion on low-income Ohioans. She suggests that maybe lawmakers should be held to the same standards and also be subjected to drug tests.
Nine states have enacted similar drug testing programs. The laws in two of those states are now being challenged in court.
This is the third time Senator Schaffer has tried to get such a system in place so he understands his proposal comes with a certain amount of opposition and even controversy.
â€œIâ€™m not going to stop. Iâ€™m not going to slow down. Iâ€™m not going to retreat or turn around and run.
“I am going to keep working on this bill to help these kids and get these abusers treatment and Iâ€™m not going to stop.â€