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North Carolina begins drug tests for welfare applicants

Several thousand North Carolina welfare applicants have been screened since drug testing began in August. Of those, 89 were ordered to take tests, and 21 of them tested positive.
Several thousand North Carolina welfare applicants have been screened since drug testing began in August. Of those, 89 were ordered to take tests, and 21 of them tested positive. JIM BOUNDS

State officials presented early results Tuesday of a new law that requires drug tests for welfare applicants. Of several thousand people who were screened, 89 people took the test and 21 of them tested positive.

The law requiring testing of any Work First recipient suspected of being a drug user was enacted in 2013 over Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto. After a year’s delay in implementing the law, the state began requiring the testing in August.

Of 7,600 applicants and recipients, about 2 percent were referred for drug testing. The 21 positive tests represent less than 0.3 percent of the people screened.

Work First is the state welfare program that offers short-term cash benefits, training and support services to families. In about 62 percent of Work First cases, only children get benefits — and no adults fall under the test requirement.

The program starts with screening of applicants and benefit recipients. About 7,600 people were screened in the last five months of 2015, said Wayne Black, director of the Social Services Division at the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Social workers ask those being screened about drug use in the previous 12 months to determine whether to refer them for testing. People convicted of felony drug offenses in the three years before applying for benefits are also referred.

Benefits for adults are cut off if a test is positive, or a test appointment is missed. Seventy people failed to show up for appointments in the last five months of last year, Black told the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. The totals for 2015 may be off, he said, because some applications filed in December would not have been processed until January.

Of the 21 positive cases, 12 were approved for a reduced payment because children were involved. In the others, the applications were withdrawn or were disqualified for other reasons, Black said.

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