Getting testy 

Sen. David Holt
Credit: Mark Hancock

Signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in May 2012, the new law makes anyone caught with drugs in his or her system ineligible for payments from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for six to 12 months. It also expanded a statefunded drug screening process.

From November 2012 through February 2013, about 1,300 people went through initial screenings, according to the state Department of Human Services (DHS). Of those, 340 received additional testing.

Of the 29 denied benefits, 13 refused to take the mandatory additional tests, and 16 had children who were still eligible to receive benefits.

“I think those numbers are in keeping with what I expected,” said state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, an author of the measure, House Bill 2388.

He said the goal was never to kick a lot of people off of TANF, and the new results aren’t too different from previous levels. Holt added that the new law basically codifies a system that was already in place.

DHS has always tested TANF applicants for drugs, but HB 2388 added another layer of tests and raised the stakes for positive results, according to department spokesman Mark Beutler. Previously, if someone tested positive in the application process, he or she still would have received benefits and been referred to a treatment program.

“If they’re tested now and test positive for drugs, they can’t receive any benefits,” Beutler said.

The screening process starts with SASSI, a simple chemical test that DHS has used for years. Under the new law, if an applicant is flagged, he or she also must go through an Addiction Severity Index interview with a licensed counselor and take a urinalysis.

All tests are completed by a contractor from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Each SASSI screening costs the state $20. Additional tests typically add $141 more, Beutler said. In the first four months of the new process, that comes to roughly $74,000 in testing fees.

Holt said he thinks it’s a worthwhile expenditure.

“I don’t think there’s a terrible amount of cost/benefit analysis that needs to be done,” he said.

Because some testing already was happening, the cost increase shouldn’t be too much, Holt added. Still, he said the new system largely is a way to spend government money more wisely. By ensuring applicants are clean, TANF help can be more effective.

Last year, there was a monthly average of 3,743 adults and 16,663 children on TANF. The drug rule only applies to adults.

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