North Carolina -- A joint committee in the North Carolina legislature is now working to clarify parts of a bill that would require drug testing and running background checks on some welfare applicants. The House of Representatives gave final approval Wednesday to the bill, which already has been modified five times, before sending it back to committee.
There are two distinct parts of the bill-a drug test provision would apply only to applicants of the Work First program, which is within the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The background check provision of the bill would apply to applicants of the Food and Nutrition Services program-which includes EBT cards, also known as food stamps.
Under House Bill 392, a North Carolinian who applies for the Work First program within TANF would be mandated to take and pay for a drug test, if the Department of Social Services (DSS) suspects the applicant has been illegally using controlled substances. Applicants who fail the drug test would lose the opportunity to receive benefits for a year, unless he or she can prove completion of a substance abuse program and can pass a subsequent drug test. Annually on April 1, each local DSS office would have to report to the Department of Health and Human Services on the number of individuals who are denied benefits.
The other portion of the bill would affect significantly more families, according to the Guilford DSS. The bill's "fleeting felon" provision would aim to prevent parole offenders or those fleeing from custody from getting food stamp services. Already, DSS offices can ask an applicant if he or she is a fugitive and can conduct a criminal background check on that person. It cannot, however, share that information with local law enforcement agencies. The most recently-modified Senate bill would allow for legislators to change that rule and allow for law enforcement agencies to receive this information.
According to the Department of Social Services, there are 46,000 families in Guilford County who currently receive Food and Nutrition Services assistance. In June, alone, there were $12 million in benefits given to applicants in Guilford. In Forsyth County, about 26 thousand families applied for these services, in Alamance almost 12 thousand applied, in Randolph, about 12 thousand applied and in Rockingham, about nine thousand applied.
The bill has received bipartisan support in the legislature and would go into effect on Oct. 1, if committee agrees on changes, and the governor signs the bill.
Some critics of the bill include 20-year-old Dominick Daniels, who talked with News 2 Tuesday as he was waiting in line at the Guilford DSS office in Greensboro to apply for an EBT card, which he applies for every month. He was among about a dozen people who were waiting outside the office before doors opened this morning and said he does not believe drug testing or running background checks on welfare applicants is necessary.
Other opponents of the bill have argued that mandating a drug test for Work First program applicants could unfairly could label the applicants as drug users.
Guilford DSS assistant director Steve Hayes told News 2 the bill's proposals could potentially deter some families from even applying for services. Hayes provided News 2 his interpretation of the bill but said he could not elaborate in further detail about the bill's potential effects until the state informs them of how to implement it and how to fund the requirements.
Under the bill's proposed requirements, children of an applicant who is denied provisions under bill requirements still would receive benefits, payable to a protective payee.
The Greensboro Police Department declined to comment, as the public information officer said the bill is "outside law enforcement purview."