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Lawmaker Calls For Drug Test As Welfare Prerequisite

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Nearly three million Illinoisans receive benefits in the form of food stamps, welfare or medical help. But one lawmaker says too much of this assistance is being "drained" by drug users.

Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is proposing changes to the way beneficiaries qualify for assistance. He wants to require drug testing when people sign up for welfare. The representative says the state pays money to people without assessing their ability to be productive.

"We want the needy to be provided the financial assistance they need," he said. "We want those who are needy and are having some—let's just say 'medical problems,' through substance abuse—help."

Kay's legislation would filter out those who test positive for drugs when signing up for welfare, and get that population into a treatment program. He says the state's Department of Healthcare and Family Services should be able to pay for it.

"That's a pretty big budget, I think they could find some funds in there to assign to that particular line item," he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least nine states have some sort of drug screening for welfare. Dozens more states considered it last year, but Florida's law was struck down in December.

Kay's legislation would deduct the cost of screening from the first month's welfare check for those who pass the test. According to Springfield-based MidWest DNA & Drug Testing, a standard urine test costs about $40.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to the station in 2020.
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