Drug Testing for Work First Benefits Pushed Back
Original Post by the Raleigh News and Observer
Less than a week before county social service agencies are supposed to start drug testing welfare applicants under a new state law, the agencies are still awaiting guidelines from the state Department of Health and Human Services. A DHHS spokeswoman blamed the delay on a lack of funding, but the lawmaker behind the original measure said there was enough money in the budget to get started. On Friday, the House approved a technical corrections bill, HB 1133, that included a provision to delay the drug testing until July 1, 2015, instead of the current effective date of Aug. 1, 2014. The bill will go to the Senate this week.
Some county social service officials suggested the law would be one more headache for agencies that have struggled over the past year with Medicaid and food stamp backlogs. Luv Sinclair, the program manager of Work First in Wake County, said that the county already had a significant backlog of Medicaid applications and that drug testing would be another burden. In Wake County, 1,818 people receive Work First benefits, and though not all would have to undergo drug testing — the law requires testing only if social workers suspect drug use — it’s hard to know what will be required without the rules. Sinclair said additional staff and resources could be needed.
Before most laws can be implemented, rules have to be written and then approved by several different bodies in a process that can take months. For the drug testing law, the DHHS must approve the rules submitted by the Social Services Commission and receive certification from the Office of the State Budget. After receiving funding, the DHHS must publish the rules online and in the state register, allow for a 60-day public comment period, make changes based on public input and submit the rules to the Rules Review Commission for its approval. The DHHS has been stuck on the first step.
Some lawmakers and county representatives were informed earlier this year that temporary rules would be made available. Kristi Clifford, press assistant in the DHHS communications office, said the deadline for proposing temporary rules lapsed in February, and the DHHS is proceeding with permanent rules instead. The permanent rule-making process is several months longer than the temporary one. Sen. Jim Davis, a Republican from Franklin, said he is anxious for the rules to be approved. “I regret that they spent so much time in rule-making, because I think it’s a good bill,” Davis said.
The DHHS has run across its own difficulties in implementing the drug testing. In an April report to the legislature, the department noted that it hasn’t been able to find drug testing facilities in all 100 counties. As a result, it would have to initiate a statewide contract for drug testing services, a process the report said would be labor-intensive and have its own timeline. Rep. Dean Arp, a Republican from Monroe and a primary sponsor of the House bill that became law last session, said he did not anticipate the rule-making delay.
The legislature has also not yet allocated all the funding the DHHS said is needed to implement the testing. The agency estimated that 5,750 drug tests would be required each year at a cost of $540,594. It said an additional $125,750 would be needed in the law’s first year to modernize the state’s automated case management system. The budget proposed by the House covers the cost of modernizing systems, but only $218,733 for the testing, leaving $321,859 of the department’s cost estimate unfunded. The Senate’s proposed budget does not include funding for drug testing at all. Clifford said the funding issues could explain the lack of progress made toward adopting the rules. “Given the lack of funding, it’s not unusual that this would delay the rule-making process,” she said.
(Katy Canada and Georgia Parke, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/26/14).