Friday, January 31, 2014

Drug Testing for TANF Benefits and Nutritional Requirements for SNAP Benefits - 2014 Indiana House Bill 1351

31 January 2014

A bill making it's way through the Indiana House of Representatives would disqualify those testing positive for illicit drug use from receiving TANF benefits. It also establishes nutritional content minimums for “foods” that may be purchased under SNAP – Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jud McMillin who is joined by co-sponsors Koch, Kubacki, Messmer, Culver, Neese, Harman, Frye R, Ober, Huston, Smaltz, Rhoads, DeVon, and Mahan.

The synopsis of this bill is;
Welfare matters; drug testing. Requires the division of family resources to establish a statewide program for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that allows SNAP benefits to be used only for food and beverages that have sufficient nutritional value, as determined by the division of family resources. Requires the office of the secretary of family and social services (office) to administer a drug testing program (program) for individuals who are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance or receiving TANF assistance on behalf of a child. Establishes requirements for the program and ineligibility penalties. Prohibits an individual who is ineligible to receive TANF assistance under the program from receiving assistance on behalf of a child and provides for an exception. Requires the office to collect data to assess and avoid discrimination in the program. Requires the office to provide information to the Indiana housing and community development authority and any division of the office that implements the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program concerning an individual who tests positive for controlled substances. Requires the department of workforce development to submit a report to the legislative council and the unemployment insurance oversight committee concerning certain unemployment topics.

The list of controlled substances that would disqualify an applicant or beneficiary of TANF is found at Ind. Code § 35-48-1-9 which includes Peyote, Marijuana, Clonitazene, and hundreds of others.

The general problem that I have with this bill is it takes a patchwork approach to public assistance qualifications and implicitly invokes a morality clause – drug use or abuse. However, the measure of moral deprecation through drug use fails to adequately draw a reasonable correlation when the demarcation is legality. A person who treats his or her body as though it were an open sewer and dumps in garbage made to appear as food – artificial colours or flavours, HFCS, hydrogenated oils -- and then encounters the resulting effects such as obesity and diabetes is giving the status of “victim” while the social pot smoker is branded a miscreant devoid of good character and unworthy of societal aide. To the contrary it is the immoral individual lacking any respect for his or her own body and subsequently often that of the person's dependent children who should be branded the moral transgressor – child abuser if the child is obese.

This leads to the second portion of this bill.

The bill does provide an exception for those who test positive for a controlled substance and are participating in a drug treatment program. This carrot-and-stick approach does make it more palatable although I feel a means-based testing approach is more appropriate. That is implicit in the drug testing portion of this bill. If you are wealthy enough to be able to afford recreational drugs then you don't need public assistance. If you are wealthy enough to be able to afford not nutritive snacks, to buy food necessary to carry the extra weight on your body from obesity, or to employ others to prepare your meals for you then you clearly have no need for public assistance.

This bill provides the following language establishing nutritional requirements for SNAP.
(a) The division shall establish a statewide program for SNAP that allows SNAP benefits to be used only for food, food products, and beverages that have sufficient nutritional value, as determined by the division.
(b) In determining sufficient nutritional value under subsection (a), the division shall consider the food limitations set forth in the women, infants, and children nutrition program (WIC) (under IC 16-35-1.5).

I wrote about the matter of nutrition in my 06 March 2012 posting, Fighting Hunger – A Sensible Cure. In that I specifically mentioned that SNAP benefits should be aligned to the WIC program. “Indiana's SNAP program should receive a major overhaul as it doesn't provide nutrients like WIC does.” I am pleased that these representative have adopted this common sense approach.

While I applaud the sponsors of this bill for their effort to improve the health of recipients I believe that the drug testing portion of the bill is arbitrary and falls woefully short of the appropriate means testing – the first and most obvious being body fat percentage.

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