Scotland County’s Board of Commissioners debated whether to support a bill that would require those on welfare to be drug tested.
Commissioner John Cooley asked the board to “request legislation to require drug tests for public assistance programs.” The commissioners debated the contentious topic before eventually voting not to support the motion by a 4-2 vote.
Cooley’s motion was initially seconded by Commissioner Bob Davis. Davis eventually withdrew his second after learning that some uncertainty still surrounds the proposal that would require the testing. That legislation passed the North Carolina Senate in April but has not yet received a final vote in the House. It would effect those receiving food stamps and job training.
Chairman Guy McCook said the Scotland County Department of Social Services has “significant concerns” about the proposed legislation.
“The DSS board met this week and we discussed this. One of the concerns the staff has is the implementation of this piece. Part of the problem is that while it sounds good to do (in practice) … if we require these drugs tests and someone tests positive, it doesn’t exclude the entire family’s benefits.
“The problem you have is how to differentiate between families when you have one member of a family that has a substance abuse problem and the others don’t. That’s the concern that staff has in trying to manage that.”
Cooley said that if it is acceptable for state employees to face compulsory drug screenings, then it should be acceptable for those receiving government assistance.
“(There are) many jobs you can’t hold without being subject to a drug test, particularly state jobs. So if we’re spending state, county and federal money … I certainly don’t see where it would be unjust to (make drug testing a requirement) to receive public assistance,” Cooley said.
County Manager Kevin Patterson told the commissioners that he has heard that the bill is likely to pass the General Assembly and become law.
Concerned that some of the cost of the testing – which has been called an “unfunded mandate” by its detractors in Raleigh – will fall to the county, Commissioner Whit Gibson wondered aloud about how the legislation would be funded. It is estimated that the policy could cost the state more than $2.1 million.
In response, McCook said that the applicant would be required to pay for the drug screening.
“They are then reimbursed for the cost (if they are found to be clean),” McCook said.
The cost for the screenings, which averages about $100 per test, would likely fall to the county’s unless funding is added by the General Assembly.
After Davis withdrew his second until more could be learned about the bill’s impact on the DSS and the county, Gibson stepped in to second Cooley’s motion.
Commissioners McPhatter, McCook, McCall and Davis voting against a resolution of support, while Cooley and Gibson voted for it.