By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Bill Mitchell is serious enough about how much Illinois is spending on public aid that he’s willing to prove he’s not on drugs.
IL WILL IF YOU WILL: Mitchell says lawmakers and those asking for public aid should be drug tested.
Mitchell, a Republican lawmaker from Decatur, has failed for the past several years to pass a drug test requirement for anyone applying for public benefits in Illinois. He’s trying again this year, but with a new wrinkle.
“There are certain members of the General Assembly who would accuse me of hypocrisy, ‘You’re stereotyping poor people, saying they’re on drugs,’” Mitchell said. “So I fine-tuned the bill, I said ‘If Bill Mitchell is asking someone to be drug tested to get on public assistance, then when I am filing my re-election papers, I have to have a drug test too.’”
Mitchell’s plan, HB5292, would require anyone who runs for the Illinois House or the Illinois Senate to submit to a drug test. It would also require anyone applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the state/federal cash grant for impoverished families, to also be drug tested.
Mitchell knows his plan will never become law in Illinois, but he wants to start the conversation about how much Illinois is spending on public assistance.
“When I first got to the Legislature in 1999, the single biggest category of expenditures were K-12 education,” Mitchell explained. “Now, public assistance is number one.”
Illinois is spending $13 billion, out of a $36 billion budget, on Medicaid this year. The state is spending just $6 billion on public schools. (Illinois is spending $7 billion on pensions.)
The Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees TANF spending, said Illinois has nearly doubled what is spends on TANF over the past five years.
“After all-time low of around 26,000 cases (per month) in 2008, caseload is now about 50,000 cases (per month),” said DHS spokeswoman Januari Smith.
The dollar amounts further show the explosion in growth.
In 2009, Illinois spent $85 million on TANF. The state has spent $83 million on TANF in the first six months of this year. The state spent $177 million total in 2013.
Illinois also spends about $3 billion a year on food stamps.
Mitchell has suggested drug tests for food stamp recipients in the past as well, but that plan was killed by the Democratic lawmakers who control Illinois state government.
“The say ‘You’re trying to stigmatize people, you’re trying to categorize people, you’re trying to be mean to them’ and certainly that’s not what I want to do,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he wants to get help for people who are using drugs, and make sure that Illinois’ limited budget for public aid is spent on those who need it.
Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.