Wilson's war: Substance abusers receiving financial help for Department of Workforce Services

Jan 30 2012 - 8:09am


Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Kaysville lawmaker is proposing that every person who files for financial help from the Department of Workforce Services be required to take a written test to determine if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he is working on the wording of the bill and plans to have it ready for the public to read by the middle of this week.

The bill, if it becomes law, would require anyone filing for financial assistance from the department to take a "substance abuse subtle screening inventory," a written test that Wilson said has been shown to be 95 percent accurate in assessing who has a drug or alcohol addiction.

If the result of the written test indicates a potential substance abuse problem, the applicant will be required to give a urine sample for analysis. If that test comes up positive for controlled substances, the person will be required to undergo treatment and to have mandatory random drug tests as long as he or she is receiving financial aid, Wilson said.

"We don't want to use public funds for drugs," he said.

Wilson said determining up front if there is a drug problem will reduce the financial burden for taxpayers.

"We do expect people to take personal responsibility for their lives," Wilson said. "We do expect people to get back on their feet. We do expect people to get jobs."

People who are addicted to drugs usually are not taking personal responsibility for their lives and are not actively looking for jobs, Wilson said.

Geoff Landward, general counsel with the Department of Workforce Services, said applicants who are extremely destitute can qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federally funded program.

On a daily basis, about 3,200 individuals are receiving funds from the program. They can receive funds until they either find employment or are removed from the program for failing to meet the guidelines.

Those guidelines include actively looking for a job and participating in workshops to improve skills, such as resume writing and interviewing techniques, Landward said.

What the department wants from Wilson's bill is to have a way to find out from the beginning if someone applying for services has a substance abuse problem, Landward said.

"If they come to us and tell us from the get-go they have an alcohol- or drug-abuse problem, we can deal with it and address it," Landward said.

Landward said those with substance abuse issues tend to not participate in the program and end up being disqualified after receiving benefits.

About 37 percent of cases closed are for failure to participate, Landward said. The majority of cases are closed because the individual finds employment.

Wilson said his research has shown Utahns who file for financial aid usually are on the program less than a year, while in other states those on the program stay on it for up to three years.

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