Senate tightens welfare rules

Published 9:15 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2014

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The Alabama Senate is trying to enact stricter welfare regulations, including mandating drug testing for some welfare applicants.

The Senate also voted 25-5 Wednesday for a bill requiring able-bodied, unemployed adults with no dependents to participate in work or community service programs if they receive food stamps. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Brian Taylor of Prattville, said Alabama had the requirement until 2008.

The Senate also voted 24-4 Wednesday to require drug testing for any welfare applicant with a felony or misdemeanor conviction for drug possession or distribution in the past five years.

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The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Trip Pittman of Daphne, said the legislation would give people using drugs an incentive to stop and would show taxpayers that the Legislature is being accountable with their money. His bill would allow a drug offender to get benefits, but the benefits would be cut off after three failed drug tests. Others in the household would continue to get benefits. The average loss would be about $25 per month.

Democratic opponents of the bill got it amended to end the testing in 2017.

The bill would primarily affect misdemeanor convictions because Alabama’s welfare agency uses federal regulations to keep most felony drug offenders from getting benefits.

An opponent, Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton of Greensboro, said, “All of these are about hitting poor people on public assistance.”

The bills still must pass in the House and be signed by the governor to become law.