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Article updated: 1/28/2013 7:25 AM

SW Indiana township tests aid applicants for drugs

By

MOUNT VERNON, Ind. -- A southwestern Indiana township has begun giving drug tests to applicants for emergency assistance and denying aid for positive results.

Black Township in Posey County is the first Indiana township to screen all applicants for emergency township assistance for drugs, the Evansville Courier & Press reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/VgYOUm ).

Black Township Trustee Lindsay Suits said about a third of the 35 tests performed in the first three weeks of the program have come back positive.

The immediate goal is to keep taxpayers from funding drug use, Suits said.

"Our long term goal is to break the cycle of dependency," Suits said. "It is time for us to stop having great ideas and stopping there."

Townships assistance programs provide residents with essentials such as food, clothing and utility payments when they lack the money for them, Suits said. The purpose is to help people through emergencies so they can become self-sufficient.

However, she said people using drugs won't find work and most employers screen potential hires for drugs.

She says people who test positive can reapply for assistance if they participate in substance abuse treatment. Suits said she'll consider having the township pay the cost of participation, but so far no one has agreed to enter treatment.

"A lot of times, people find out we're drug testing, they don't even come in," Suits said. "I was on the phone with a lady today, she said, `I'm not going to come in because I'll test positive."'

Many of the people who apply for Black Township assistance also receive assistance from the state or federal governments, Suits said, but the township does not share its test results with other agencies.

Drug testing is not feasible in all townships, said Trustee Kathryn Martin of Knight Township in Vanderburgh County. Her township has dozens of people applying for emergency assistance every day.

"We would not be able to afford them," Martin said. "There's no way. It would take away from the services that are needed. I've got to worry about burying people, keeping lights on and keeping people in homes. And if I'm spending money on drug testing them, that money has to come from somewhere."

Suits budgeted $12,000 for drug testing this year, plus an additional $10,000 to pay for staff to administer the tests. About 1,000 people year apply for aid. The township's annual budget is $317,000.

Suits said she has not had to raise taxes or cut other programs to pay for the drug tests because a former trustee did not use all of the revenues coming into the office.

Seven states have passed laws requiring some form of drug screening before residents can receive state assistance: Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The National Conference of State Legislatures said at least 28 other states put forward similar legislation in 2012.

The Indiana House last year passed a bill that would have instituted random drug testing for applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but it did not receive a hearing in the state Senate.

Supporters say the hope refiled legislation will fare better this year.

"We want to make sure that ... taxpayers' money is going to people who are using it wisely, and really need it," said Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon.

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