Drug Policy

HB 298 Seeks Drug Testing of Ohio Works First Applicants

08.25.15

On August 5, 2015, a new bill (HB 298) was introduced to the Ohio Legislature calling for Ohio Works First cash benefit applicants to 1) complete substance abuse screening and, if likelihood of dependence is indicated, 2) undergo physical testing for trace presence of those substances. Applicants failing the test would be referred for treatment and would not receive benefits for at least half a year.

Mike Brickner, senior policy director for American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, pointed out this requirement for testing perpetuates “ugly and false” stereotypes that people using cash assistance are more likely to use drugs. Also, the number receiving Ohio Works First benefits is declining by significant numbers, with children comprising the vast majority of recipients.

Recent research shows the rate of positive results compared with total welfare applicants in six out of seven states presently using drug testing for this purpose is well below 1 percent in each case—dwarfed by the national drug use average of 9.4 percent.

Other factors also weigh against testing. It well may represent a breach in constitutionality. Add to this reduced funding for treatment services and current capacity below what’s needed just to treat those needing services now. This suggests a long wait for helping hands to many who can least afford to go without them.