DHS Spokesperson Explains New Drug Screening Law

Thursday, May 17th 2012, 5:55 pm
By: News 9

Drug screening for adults applying welfare in Oklahoma will become a reality on Nov. 1, thanks to new legislation signed by Gov. Fallin recently.

Fallin signed House Bill 2388 into law on Wednesday. The law requires the state Department of Human Services (DHS) to screen adults for drug use if they apply to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

However, DHS tells News 9 that the drug tests are not required the first day and that the new law does not require Oklahomans on welfare to take a drug test to apply or before they cash a state check.

"They're not required to take a drug test as part of their eligibility," said DHS spokesperson, Sheree Powell.

5/16/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Governor Signs Drug Screening Bill Into Law

Powell says Oklahoma's drug screening law will not be much different than what the agency already looks for before giving out temporary assistance. And Powell says it is much different than the Florida law passed in 2011, which is currently tied up in court.

"If someone tests positive now, they're referred to treatment, but still get money. Under the new law they can still get treatment but no cash," Powell said.

Currently, more than 20,000 Oklahomans get TANF assistance each month. In November, it will be up to DHS workers to decide if anyone needs to take a drug test to continue getting cash.

"It doesn't require a drug test right off the bat," Powell said.

DHS says more than 17,000 of the 20,000 a month who get TANF assistance are Oklahoma children.

Under the new law, if DHS workers suspect mom and dad are using by not meeting current requirements, i.e. going to work or school, they will need to take a drug test. If parents or adult guardians refuse or fail, Powell says the children will still get financial help. She also says children will not be drug tested.

"Kids get that money no matter what," said Powell, explaining how the minors would get the money they need to live if their caretakers fail a drug test. "They can designate an alternate payee on their children's behalf."

DHS will not do drug tests on the designated payees, but says it's not worried about that.

"The workers will be able to tell, they'll be able to see if this is a responsible adult or if it's shady deal. They'll be able to know."

Adults who fail the drug test will not get the cash, but can still get free rehabilitation services to get off drugs. They can re-apply for temporary assistance six months after a failed drug test.

DHS says it's very important to note, the new drug screening law will only impact those families in the TANF program. It does not affect those on food stamps, Medicaid or Soonercare.