Gov. Paul LePage wants to further crack down on drug use by welfare recipients by eliminating food stamps and cash payments to families for recipients with a drug conviction. He also wants to require screenings that could result in drug testing for all participants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Similar efforts by LePage have been turned back by legislators, but the governor believes the public supports his efforts to ensure that welfare dollars are not spent on drugs.

“We have long believed that this is an appropriate path to take to ensure that the benefits are being used to support families on their pathway out of poverty and to ensure appropriate use of taxpayer dollars,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

The bill, which was introduced just months after drug testing began for some welfare recipients, will be aired Monday during a legislative committee hearing.

Rep. Drew Gattine, co-chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said he believes the proposals will face opposition from lawmakers.

“If we want to discourage drug use, there are far better ways to do it. This bill only further stereotypes and scapegoats the poor,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook.


In February, the administration began requiring a drug-screening assessment for TANF applicants with felony drug convictions. Those who failed were required to be tested for drugs.

The governor’s new proposal would bring the state in line with federal law by prohibiting people from receiving TANF and food stamp benefits if they have a felony drug conviction.

The proposal also would require all recipients of TANF to submit to a drug-screening questionnaire called the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory, or SASSI, created by researchers in Indiana. Those who fail the screenings would be required to submit to urinalysis.

People under threat of losing TANF benefits after failing a drug test could retain them by entering substance abuse counseling, the administration said.

The maker of the drug-screening assessment, the SASSI Institute, said the tool is intended to screen for substance use disorders and shouldn’t be used to deny public assistance or to measure the use of controlled substances.

“When public assistance is made contingent on participation in the assessment and treatment process, it increases the risk for violations of ethical principles and applicants’ rights,” the institute has said.

Oamshri Amarasingham of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine said the group opposes the governor’s proposal because it unfairly discriminates against welfare recipients. Similar efforts have been turned back in the past, and a judge found that a Florida program mandating drug tests for all welfare recipients was unconstitutional.

“These kinds of programs perpetuate that ugly stereotype that poor people are more likely than others to use drugs. That has not proven to be true,” Amarasingham said.

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