The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

April 5, 2013

Wozniak defends drug-testing legislation

Bill targets welfare applicants

HARRISBURG — The state senator sponsoring legislation to require welfare assistance applicants to undergo random drug testing defended the bill Thursday on the ground it is common practice in the business world.

Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont, said many private employers require drug tests as part of the hiring process and so should the state for people applying for public assistance.

Pennsylvania now requires testing only of convicted drug felons applying for welfare.  Last year, two such applicants failed drug tests, but Wozniak said the low rate doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t expand the requirement to all applicants.

Wozniak said drug testing would help dispel misperceptions about recipients’ backgrounds while at the same time weeding out anyone trying to take advantage of the system.

“Everyone talks about how everyone is a slimy welfare recipient and, in most cases, they are just people who need some help,”  he said.

Acting Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth testified before a legislative committee earlier this spring that testing also deters drug users from applying for benefits because they know they’d fail to pass.

Pennsylvania began testing convicted drug felons last year, with a pilot program in Schuylkill County that was  expanded to 18 other counties in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, including Northumberland and Montour counties.

Anne  Bale, Welfare Department spokeswoman, said 40 former felons were tested in 2012 and that the two who did not pass meant a failure rate of 5 percent. She said the state paid the $30 per test cost under an agreement with a drug testing laboratory.

Bale did not know if the lab could handle an increased volume should the state expand drug testing to all welfare applicants, adding “that’s one of the things we need to figure out.”

What’s certain is that the state cost of testing would rise substantially. The Welfare Department gets more than 100,000 applications for public assistance every year.

Pennsylvania is one of 29 states considering proposals to drug-screen welfare applicants. A bill  also has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In most instances, the legislation is  authored by Republican lawmakers. The rapid spread of the concept has prompted some media observers to suggest that the drug-screening welfare recipients bills are originating with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative-leaning think tank.

An ALEC spokesman on Friday said that while the group has created dozens of model bills – mostly focusing on taxes and attacking labor – the council has taken no position on drug-testing welfare recipients. The closest proposal that ALEC has come up with is a piece of legislation that would require drug testing for convicted felons who are seeking subsidized housing, said Wilhelm Meierling, senior director of public affairs for ALEC.

Meierling declined to say if the staff at ALEC endorsed the idea of drug-testing welfare recipients.

State Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, sponsored the drug testing bill in the Pennsylvania House.

Wozniak’s Senate bill is co-sponsored by 13 Republican senators and two other Democrats.  

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least seven states have passed various drug screening or testing  laws for public assistance applicants or recipients. They are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah.

A court challenge halted Florida’s drug-testing program. State data there found that the cost of the drug tests amounted to $45,000 more than the savings from detecting offenders.

Critics of drug-testing programs also cite other problems, including that people on parole for drug felonies may already be subject to drug testing,  making further screening for welfare benefits duplicative.

“Such proposals are wasteful, ineffective, divert attention from real problems and are unconstitutional,” said Amy Hirsh, managing attorney for the North Philadelphia Law Center.

“They also hurt victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (who may feel the tests are invasive if they have to give a urine sample in front of an observer.)”

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • bank1 West End bank robbed

    The West End branch of AmeriServ Financial was robbed Tuesday morning, two days before the branch is scheduled to close.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • weather_2 Old Man Winter returns to area

    Just when you think we’ve finally escaped the cold temperatures, winter swoops back in to remind us it’s not going away just yet.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Home is Where The Tribune-Democrat is Delivered!

    April 15, 2014

  • City seeks support for sewer revamp

    The city is looking for backup from the Johnstown Redevelopment Authority in spreading what they call “true” facts and figures regarding the city’s encompassing sewer revamp.

    April 15, 2014

  • Airport gets lift with $180G grant

    The John Murtha Johnstown–Cambria County Airport needs to replace some basic maintenance equipment: a pickup truck, painting machine, chain saw, weed eater, hand tools and more.
    So, on Tuesday, the airport’s authority agreed to accept Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Bureau of Aviation grant money that already has been tentatively allocated.

    April 15, 2014

  • Cresson asks court to force ex-chief to sign pact

    An agreement reached more than a month ago between Cresson Borough Council and its former police chief still has not been signed, and the borough is asking a judge to intervene.

    April 15, 2014

  • hamer 16 Mom told to seek help for addiction

    A Johnstown woman charged with tossing her 4-month-old baby and with drug-related offenses pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Cambria County court on Tuesday.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • District hopes refinancing will save additional $40G

    Refinancing about $4 million in debt will result in savings more than twice as large as initially expected, Windber Area school board members learned Tuesday night.

    April 15, 2014

  • Elder justice events set

    In an effort to combat elder abuse in area communities, an elder justice seminar will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 24 at the Johnstown Senior Center, 550 Main St., downtown Johnstown. In addition, a free elder abuse clergy training seminar will be held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. April 25 at Moxham Lutheran Church, 500 Park Ave., Johnstown.

    April 15, 2014

  • Local briefs 4/16/2014

    April 15, 2014


Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads