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Stollings TANF amemdment

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, defends his amendment to Senate Bill 387 on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Charleston.

CHARLESTON — A bill to continue the pilot program to drug test TANF recipients will be on third reading Wednesday in the West Virginia Senate.

The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, on Tuesday that would have removed marijuana from the list of substances tested for. The state Department of Health and Human Resources testified last week out of 131 positive tests since 2017, 61 have been for marijuana.

Senate Bill 387 would extend the drug testing pilot program until 2022 and permits DHHR to continue the program if they want. DHHR Deputy Secretary Jeremiah Samples said the department felt they needed more time to evaluate the value of the program after the pandemic.

Started in 2017, the pilot program tests adult recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Adults must have a child to receive TANF. Some kinship families also receive TANF to supplement foster care reimbursements.

Samples said 1,068 tests have been performed since the start, with 131 positives. The tests cost about $30,000 total.

Once a person tests positive, they must successfully complete an addiction treatment program to again receive TANF payments. Only one person has completed a treatment program, Samples said. Most people are never heard from again.

There have been 91 referrals to Child Protective Services through the program.

Samples said along with getting people addiction treatment and protecting children, the program’s goal is to ensure DHHR is providing “clean” employees to employers. 

Those against the drug testing program say it takes money away from children. While the bill permits a child’s TANF payment to be transferred to either a relative or someone else, Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House in Buckhannon, West Virginia, said removing funding from a family still affects a child.

“I don’t know how in any way it could not impact a child,” Kerner told the Health Committee. “We saw it with SNAP. It wasn’t like the person with a conviction wasn’t eating.”

On Tuesday, Stollings moved to remove marijuana from the testing list. He said a person could go out of state, smoke legally and come back to still test positive even a month later. In his training as a physician, he said he’s taught not to test for marijuana before prescribing some medications because of the prevalence of false positives. Legal CBD can even bring about a false positive.

Senate Health chair Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said the program was federally approved as is and has been running as is since 2017.

The bill is now up for passage at its next reading.

Reporter Taylor Stuck can be reached at tstuck@hdmediallc.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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