DARKE COUNTY — On Tuesday in Columbus, Darke County Commissioner Mike Stegall offered his support for a bill to create a drug-testing pilot program for Ohioans receiving state benefits.
Stegall spoke to the Community and Family Advancement Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives, telling the committee that he supports House Bill 298, which would create a pilot drug-testing program in three Ohio counties.
“Darke County would like to be one of the three pilot counties,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by Representatives Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) and Ron Maag (R-Lebanon), would set aside $100,000 annually to fund the initiative. If enacted, the program would be administered by the Department of Job and Family Services (JFS) through Ohio Works First (OWF).
The program would operate for two years and would require individuals who apply for OWF benefits to be assessed for their likelihood of using a controlled substance illegally. Those meeting a certain threshold would be required to take a drug test. Applicants refusing to take a drug test or failing a drug test would still receive benefits, but indirectly, through a third-party “protective payee” for one year’s time.
Following the two-year program, the state JFS director would prepare a report on the program’s effectiveness.
“This bill will allow counties to do the research necessary to better understand Ohio’s drug epidemic, and to help find a better way to help families who struggle with addiction,” said Stegall.
Stegall told the committee how drug use and employment are issues that “go together hand-in-hand.”
“In Darke County, as in many counties across Ohio, we have a major substance abuse problem. We also have a major employment problem. Most employers in my county tell me that they have good jobs available, but they cannot find the workers to pass the initial drug test,” he said.
Stegall also read to the committee a letter from Gracie Overholser, director of Darke County Job and Family Services.
“I see the devastation of addition on a daily basis,” she wrote. “I want to help individuals fight and overcome this devastation. I want to help the children and other family members of those suffering from addition.”
Drug-testing requirements for welfare recipients is a growing trend among a number of states. The National Conference of State Legislators reports that at least 13 states have passed drug-screening requirements. A further 18 states, including Ohio, have seen proposed legislation toward that end.
Despite criticism that the program could be used to deny benefits to the needy, neither Stegall or Overholser view the proposed legislation as a method of punishing drug addicts or their families.
“This legislation is not here to deny benefits to struggling families, but rather it is a tool to find the families who need a helping hand and it is a way to deliver that much-needed assistance,” said Stegall.
Overholser added, “I do not want to penalize the other family members of someone who has an addiction. I would like to see them still be able to receive the OWF while we fight the battle of addiction together.”