Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients Gets A "Do Not Pass" Recommendation From Committee


HB1385 is a bill introduced by Rep. Dennis Johnson which would require drug screening before applicants for public assistance in North Dakota can receive benefits.

A very watered-down version of the bill got a 16-4 vote do not pass recommendation from the House Appropriations Committee (it got a narrow, 7-6 “do pass” recommendation from the House Human Services Committee). It will now go to the floor of the House for a vote of the full chamber.

Originally the law applied both the TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) programs, but it has been amended to apply only to TANF. The bill also required, originally, that all applicants for benefits be tested. It has been changed to state that citizens eligible for the program (as opposed to applicants in the original version) “shall” be tested only if there is “reasonable suspicion.”

At this point, if the bill passes, it’s not going to be much of a step forward. If we have to rely on state social workers to voluntarily drug test, it’s probably not going to happen. That’s a shame.

This bill was talked about as if it were an attempt to deny people benefits. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. It’s an attempt to give people who need help a big incentive to stop abusing substances that are contributing to their problem. I think we can all agree that people who need public assistance have no business getting high. I think we can agree that getting high is no doubt central to the reasons why they need public assistance in the first place.

It’s self-defeating, as public policy, to subsidize the lifestyle of those who would rather spend money on getting high than finding a way to be self-sufficient.

Here’s my interview with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Johnson, from last month: