CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the first week of drug screening, four of the 73 people seeking West Virginia’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also called TANF or WV WORKS, have been referred to drug testing, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

A three-year pilot program for the drug testing of welfare recipients, which the Legislature authorized in legislation passed in 2016, officially launched on Oct. 23.

“We’re all trying to address this drug epidemic that has just overcome the state and I think this is another tool in our arsenal to fight that drug crisis,” said Jeremiah Samples, DHHR deputy secretary.

At the time of application, applicants must now answer drug screening questionnaires made up of about 14 questions to determine “reasonable suspicion of drug use.”

Questions include the following:

“Have you used drugs other than those required for medical reasons?”

“Are you always able to stop using drugs when you want to?”

“Have you neglected your family because of your use of drugs?”

Developed during the past year, Samples said West Virginia’s questionnaire was based on one in North Carolina that has withstood judicial scrutiny.

When there is “reasonable suspicion of drug use,” Samples said the applicants must submit then to drug testing. Those caught providing false answers on the questionnaire will be denied benefits.

No further action is required for those who test negative for illegal drug use.

Those testing positive, though, are being referred to substance abuse treatment or counseling programs along with job skills programs.

Initially, throughout those programs, the applicants continue to receive TANF benefits but those benefits will be blocked for six months in cases of 1st failures.

Failures during 2nd attempts mean loss of TANF benefits for 12 months.

Permanent ineligibility is declared for failures during 3rd attempts.

“We want to help these people but they have to take some personal responsibility and we want to empower them to be able to be responsible,” Samples said during a Tuesday appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”

The goal, he said, is to identify and provide treatment and other help to West Virginians with drug issues.

“If they can’t pass a drug test, they’re not going to be able to work,” Samples said. “Fundamentally, across DHHR programs, the best thing that we can do is get folks back to work.”

Approval from the U.S. Administration for Children and Families was required for the pilot program.

Samples said there are currently about 14,700 West Virginians receiving TANF benefits and most of those people are kids.

Of the total, he indicated 3,600 are adults who could possibly be subjected to drug testing. Because of different TANF designations, Samples said potential loss of benefits for adults may or may not translate to loss of benefits for dependent children.

Some TANF benefits are designated “child only.”

During the first week, Samples confirmed there had been cases of people opting not to apply for TANF benefits once they were informed the drug screening questionnaire was part of the process with the possibility of drug testing to follow based on the results.

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