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Lawmaker pitches drug tests for food stamps applicants

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A South Georgia lawmaker has filed a bill that would require applicants to pass a drug test before receiving food stamps or Medicaid.

State Rep. Greg Morris, a Republican who represents Vidalia, called House Bill 772, “common sense legislation.”

“Hard working Georgians expect their tax dollars to be used responsibly and efficiently,” said Morris, whoserves as chairman of the Banks & Banking Committee.   “Under no circumstance should the government fund someone’s drug habit. HB 772 is common sense legislation.”

 State Rep. Rahn Mayo, a Democrat who represents DeKalb County’s District 84, said he sees pitfalls with the bill, namely that it targets a federal program and unfairly scrutinizes the poor.

“This is something that has been brewing and talked about for a while, but that’s going to be tough to pass because food stamps are federally funded. It’s not a state program,” Mayo said. “And if we’re going to go to that extent, we should have our state lawmakers who receive state benefits and compensation face the same kind of scrutiny.”

Mayo said anecdotal stories about abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have raised concern and prompted lawmakers to look at making changes to the program.  

“The thought is that people are trading their food stamps for currency that they are using to support their lifestyles,” Mayo said. “I still believe that drug testing may be a little extreme for such a sharp assumption. And again, if we’re concerned about protecting the integrity of the program, we ought to make elected officials face the same accountability.”       

The bill comes just months after the $11 cut from food stamp checks went into effect on Nov. 1, when the recession-era boost in funding expired.

Congress is looking at cutting as much as $90 a month from 850,000 food stamps recipients. The measure is part of a farm bill that aims to cut $9 billion from food stamps over the next 10 years.   

Georgia has soared from having the 15th-highest proportion of food stamp recipients to the sixth-highest as a depressed economy took its toll. Last year, a record 1.9 million low-income Georgians received food stamps each month to help them pay for the cost of food.

In November, the food stamps program, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), began reducing benefits for recipients after funds for the 2009 Recovery Act expired. Recipients are getting about five percent less than they were previously, officials say.

Under HB 772, the Georgia Department of Human Services would be required to conduct drug tests on adult applicants for food stamps.  Applicants who also receive Medicaid benefits would be responsible for paying a $17 fee to cover the expense of the drug test.  Applicants who do not receive Medicaid benefits would pay the full cost of the drug test, but would receive food stamp reimbursement in the event that they test negative for controlled substances. 

House Bill 772 also states that any food stamp applicant who fails the drug test would be ineligible for food stamps until a subsequent test is passed.  If an applicant fails the drug test for a second time, that person would be ineligible for food stamps for three months.  Any person failing the test three times would become ineligible for one year.

HB 772 specifies that dependent children under the age of 18 are exempt from the drug testing and will not be affected if their parent fails the drug test.  However, if this happens, the ineligible parent would be required to designate an individual, who must also pass a drug test, to receive the food stamps on behalf of the children.

Pictured above: L-R: Greg Morris-YES and Rahn Mayo-NO

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