Atlanta (WAOK/AJC)- A state House committee passed a proposal Tuesday to either drug test or require mandatory classes for Georgians seeking to receive public assistance.

Legislators debated the merits, purposes and goals of tying benefits to drug tests and the pursuit of education, and advocates for the elderly, homeless and poor had a chance to speak to the Judiciary Committee.

Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, said his Senate Bill 312 which would put food stamp recipients in training, would cost about $11 million for a pilot program. He said it would make people improve themselves, while Democratic representatives on the committee questioned him about particulars, such as how it would help someone who is unemployed with a college degree.

Senate Bill 292, sponsored by Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, would require some who receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families pay for and pass a drug test. TANF are cash benefits that go to Georgia’s very poorest families and average less than $250 a month. Nearly all of the money comes from the federal government.

Setting up the program could cost the state $400,000, and bill supporters said the state should do it to make sure tax money isn’t being used to buy illicit drugs . A fiscal study of the legislation estimated about 800 of 19,000 applicants would likely test positive and be denied TANF.

Democrats tried to amend the bill so that those who passed the drug test would not have to pay, but it was voted down by the majority of Republicans on the committee. The majority also voted down an amendment that would have paid for drug treatment for those who tested positive.

Running the program could cost the state as much as $84,000 a year, or could produce a surplus of about $100,000, depending on various factors, the fiscal study said.

Submitted by: Mantonie J. Byrd


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