84 TN welfare applicants have failed drug tests since 2014

Tennessee started drug testing some applicants for welfare benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in 2014, in accord with a law approved by the Legislature two years earlier, and since then 84 people have failed the tests, administered at a cost of $38,934, reports WSMV-TV.

“Is this law working?” asked reporter Alanna Autler.

“I don’t know if it’s working the way it was written in the sense we’re being compliant with the way it’s written,” said Stephanie Jarnagin, with the Tennessee Department of Human Services. “But I don’t think it’s up for us to decide whether or not it’s good policy necessarily.”

… More than 54,835 people applied for TANF in Tennessee between when the law passed in 2014 and Dec. 31 of last year. During that same time period, 814 people were flagged to be drug tested. Of that pool, 84 people failed the drug test.

… Jarnagin said 167 people have abandoned the application process since 2014 when the law took effect. But she said DHS has no idea why people walk away, and the reasons could range from moving out of states to a change in financial circumstance.

… Failing a drug test doesn’t necessarily mean that applicants lose their shot at TANF benefits. The applicant can go through a drug treatment program, which they must pay for.

In the event the state does deny an applicant benefits, the cash assistance can still be given to the applicant’s family. In 16 cases, benefits were routed to children through a protected pay play, Jarnagin said.

Jarnagin added it’s inaccurate to think this law saves money since any denied benefits would go back to helping other recipients. She said currently there is neither a waiting list nor a backlog for benefits.

The report includes comments from House Majority Leader Glen Casada in support of the law and from Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro saying it needs to be reexamined and “maybe we need to go a different route.”

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