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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Some Maine welfare applicants to be drug-tested

AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine will soon require welfare applicants and recipients who’ve been convicted of drug-related felonies to be tested for drugs to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t being spent to enable an addiction, Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday.

Maine law had allowed drug tests to be given to recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits since 2011, but it required the Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules in order to enforce it. ...

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AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine will soon require welfare applicants and recipients who’ve been convicted of drug-related felonies to be tested for drugs to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t being spent to enable an addiction, Gov. Paul LePage said Wednesday.

Maine law had allowed drug tests to be given to recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits since 2011, but it required the Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules in order to enforce it.

LePage, who has made overhauling welfare a priority of his administration and a theme in his re-
election campaign, said the state must make sure tax dollars are supporting the most vulnerable, like children, and that welfare recipients are moving toward self-sufficiency.

“If someone tests positive for drugs, they are clearly putting their addiction ahead of their family’s needs,” he said in a statement.

Civil liberties advocates warned that the effort could infringe on individuals’ privacy, while Democrats accused LePage of playing politics and trying to distract voters from his record by waiting until an election year to release the rules and enforce the law.

“We need leaders who are serious about solving problems and enforcing the law, not simply scoring political points in an election year at a time when Maine’s economy is lagging,” House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said in a statement.

LePage’s office said that applicants for the program will have to report whether he or she has been convicted of a drug-related felony and if so, they will receive a drug test.

The state will also conduct background checks of current recipients and conduct tests if necessary, said John Martins, a spokesman for the department. Recipients can choose to enroll in a substance abuse program to avoid losing benefits, the administration said.

Martins said state has been given federal dollars to support the integrity of the welfare programs and expects that the testing can be done using existing funding. He said each test is estimated to cost between $20 and $60.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine called on the administration to reject the plan, pointing to concerns about recipients’ privacy, among other things.

“Policies like this one treat some people like they have fewer privacy rights simply because they have trouble making ends meet,” Alison Beyea, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “The last time I checked, the Fourth Amendment applies to everybody.”

The department said that it has designed its plan to “ensure privacy and fairness.” The full plan is expected to be released this month and will receive a public hearing as part of the state’s rule-making process.

LePage has moved forward with several changes to welfare over the last several months, such as directing cities and towns to no longer give municipal benefits to people who can’t prove they are living in the country legally.

His administration also recently announced that it will no longer seek a waiver from the federal government that allows some recipients to continue to receiving benefits if they don’t have a job.