Maine will soon begin to drug-test some welfare recipients with prior drug convictions as a condition to receive government aid, the state's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced Wednesday.
The new rule calls for testing of recipients with a drug conviction from the past 20 years who also indicate potential drug dependency on a separate self-assessment. People who test positive for drugs, or refuse to take the test, will be required to enter a rehabilitation program to continue receiving aid.
"[Governor Paul LePage] is respecting the wishes of hardworking taxpayers who want to know that the hand up they provide is being used appropriately," said Maine DHHS commissioner Mary Mayhew in a statement. "The goal of these benefits is not to subsidize poor lifestyle choices, but to help Mainers transition from a life of poverty to a life of prosperity.”
The new drug-testing rule, which applies to federal funding provided through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, will go into force within weeks, and has been years in the making. The legislature approved it overwhelmingly in 2011, but implementation was delayed as the state's attorney general considered how to implement it while minimizing litigation. Attorney General Janet Mills approved a modified version of the rule last week.
The state is one 18 across the country that has enacted some form of legislation calling for drug testing for welfare recipients, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such policies, while politically popular in some areas, have been criticized as bad regulations that are potentially unconstitutional.
DHHS spokesman David Sorensen maintains that Maine's law is a "middle ground" when compared to the policies elsewhere. "The whole goal is an overall effort to ensure that welfare is getting people from welfare to work," Sorensen said. "We’re not interested in helping people to maintain a lifestyle of welfare dependency."