RALEIGH — Welfare recipients could be tested for drugs or fingerprinted under a bill that passed the House 93-20 on Wednesday. The Senate is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.
The Department of Social Services already performs background tests and drug assessments on welfare applicants. But House Bill 392 threads stricter policies into the agency’s current practices. It requires drug testing of reasonably suspected illegal substance users applying for the Work First program, which gives cash benefits and job training to families. It also beefs up background checks to ensure people applying for food stamps or Work First aren’t parole or probation violators, and don’t have outstanding felony warrants.
Opponents to the bill have maintained that this measure is part of a larger plan to erode the state’s safety net for the less fortunate.
“My big concern … is how we balance the criminal justice issue of getting the bad guy here without catching everybody, and fingerprinting everybody,” said Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville, a Democrat.
He said he would vote for the bill if it doesn’t intend to fingerprint innocent people.
Rep. Dean Arp, a Republican from Monroe who sponsored the bill, says he wants to make sure only people who deserve aid – not drug users or fleeing felons – get it. The fingerprinting option was added to prevent out-of-state fleeing felons from getting aid in the state.
Recently county DSS offices came out against the bill for an amendment that could be construed as forcing the departments to collect applicants’ fingerprints.
“The conference report further clarifies that the fingerprint analysis and backgrounds are optional,” Arp said. “That’s been requested. We’ve created some concerns about paying for this. We’ve clarified that the counties are not bearing the cost.”