A vote to support a resolution to request legislation for mandatory drug tests for public assistance programs was tabled by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
“I would like to see a fail-safe answer, but I don’t think this is it, but I think we need to keep looking at it because there is an awswer out there,” said BOC Chair Larry Rhodes.
The resolution would have sent a message to N.C. Legislators that Ashe County supports drug testing for public assistance programs, attempting to prevent public assistance recipients from using public assistance funds to purchase drugs.
Before deciding to table the vote on this resolution, the board discussed the issue during their 2 p.m. work session.
“When I first read this, I said ‘that’s good,’ but after I thought about it and talked to a number of people who worked for social services, they don’t think we should do it,” said Commissioner William Sands during the work session. Sands said he had too many questions about funding and implementing drug testing.
“The question I have is we are setting polices about monies coming from other agencies. I think about the cost; the cost to do it, to implement it, and to test each person that comes in,” said Sands.
During the meeting, it was revealed the cost of each drug test will be $38, according to information from Commissioner Gary Roark.
“Then I think about if someone smokes a little pot and tests positive for it, what happens to that person’s children?” asked Sands.
Commissioner Gerald Price agreed with Sands.
“I think he’s pretty well on target,” said Price. “I absolutely see no way of policing it.”
However, two commissioners, Roark and Judy Porter Poe voiced an opposing viewpoint during the discussion.
“I think about those kids too, and I think about the elderly,” said Poe.
“Does anyone feel it is better to leave children in a home where parents are drug users? I haven’t found any statistics that says it is better to leave children in a home where parents spend their money for drugs instead of feeding and clothing their children,” said Poe during the commissioner comments portion of the meeting.
Poe later said she feels it is unfair to enforce drug testing policies for county workers and vote against a resolution that would establish drug testing for those seeking public assistance.
“If I applied for a job with county government, social services, sheriff department, I would have to submit to a drug test before employment, and submit to random drug test as long as I remained employed. Refusal or failing a drug test is reason for termination,” said Poe.
“How can we expect people on public assistance to get work and provide for their families, when they aren’t willing to stay sober and drug free to get free public assistance. Yet we expect them to stay drug free and sober and go to work each day. We have this thing backwards,”said Poe.
Poe also responded to commissioners Sands’ and Price’s financial concerns about implementation and policing to the mandatory drug-testing policy.
“I understand that it will cost money to place children, whose parents use drugs, in foster homes, but which is the best for the children?” said Poe. “We already have too many school age children whose only meals they receive for the day are breakfast and lunch at school.”
Commissioner Roark agreed with Poe, and said the board needs to find a solution for this problem.
“I think we need to take a step to fix this,” said Roark, supporting the resolution.
With the BOC divided 2-2 on the issue, Rhodes sided with Sands and Price, and said he would not support the resolution.
“I don’t like the idea of anyone getting a handout from the public,” said Rhodes. “I don’t feel this is the tool we need to fix it (public assistance fraud).”
During the BOC meeting, the board voted 5-0 to table voting on the resolution until next meeting, which will take place on Monday, May 20.
According to Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell, 29 states discussed legislation about mandatory drug testing, and as of Monday morning, only two of North Carolina’s 100 counties have approved this resolution.