Highlight on South Dakota: ‘Three strikes, you’re out’ drug testing for welfare proposed

South Dakota State Senator, Phil Jensen (R-Rapid City) has introduced  legislation (S.B. 153) that would require the state’s Department of Social Services (Department) to develop and implement a drug testing program that randomly tests 2 percent of adults applying for cash benefits under the state’s temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) program at the time of their application.

A previous bill, H.B. 1076, which failed in the South Dakota House Human Services Committee in a 9-4 vote at the end of January 2016, was introduced by state Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-Rapid City), and would have required all welfare applicants to submit to, and pay for, a test for illicit drugs. Under H.B. 1076, if the applicant failed the test on the first attempt, benefits from both the TANF program and the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) would have been withdrawn for a period of one year.

Under the TANF drug testing program (S.B. 153), an applicant who is found to have tested positive for the use of a controlled substance that was not prescribed for the applicant by a health care provider must be tested again within 45 days. If the applicant tests positive a second time, the Department must give the applicant information on available drug treatment programs, and the applicant must be tested again within 45 days. If the applicant tests positive a third time, the applicant then becomes ineligible to receive TANF benefits for a period of one year. The applicant will also be required to pay the cost of each test where the applicant tests positive through a reduction in benefits.

According to the Rapid City Journal, Rep. DiSanto’s proposed bill was not only criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union, but by Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard, who described H.B. 1097 as “somewhat insulting.”

In a letter to the Journal, Senator Jensen said that his “kinder and gentler” version of H.B. 1076 “protects children from drug usage in the home and makes sure that benefits actually reach them.” The Journal reported, however, that State Rep. Karen Soli (D-Sioux Falls) opposes S.B. 153 as much as she opposed H.B. 1097, calling both bills examples of “poor-shaming.”

S.B. 153 has been referred to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee for further action.