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Drug testing welfare applicants faces criticism

In 2012, Oklahoma passed a law that can deny TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits to adults who fail drug tests.Everyone who applies for benefits in Oklahoma is screened for drugs. If they suspect a drug addiction, DHS can go a step further and administer a chemical drug test. If a person fails, they can be denied benefits.The law's author, State Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) says the goal was to prevent the temporary tax-payer benefits from getting into the hands of people facing issues with addiction."Our belief was it would be better for the recipient and better for the government's use of our tax dollars if you would simply come back to us when you're clean," Holt says. "That's the core principle here, it's to make it a better program and I think it has."Between November 2012 and July 2014, there have been more than 5,000 substance abuse screenings, and almost 2,500 actual urine drug tests administered. Of those, only 68 people were actually denied benefits. The cost to the state has been more than $350,000 for the tests.Brady Henderson with the Oklahoma ACLU says the law has cost money and hasn't done anything to solve drug addiction."If as the state of Oklahoma has seemed to declare we are still fighting this war on drugs no matter the cost, why are we only seeming to fight it when it only affects a narrow subset of people that happen to be the people who are poorer and have the smallest political voice," he says.Senator Holt says the law hasn't led to any new costs because DHS was already doing the screenings before.Similar laws in other states have been challenged in court, but so far not in Oklahoma.

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