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Apr 8, 2010 12:07 AM by Jim Hummel

Stigma With Welfare; Family Speaks Out Amid Calls for Drug Testing

Lawmakers in Baton Rouge are considering a bill that could require some on welfare to take a drug test before collecting benefits.

Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, is behind House Bill 611, which would mandate that people who receive benefits from the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program, known as
FITAP, submit to a drug test before receiving benefits. Those who test positive for drugs would have to receive treatment or lose their welfare check.

Supporters of the bill say it could help families get addiction treatment and make sure tax dollars aren't spent on drug habits, while those who oppose it say the proposal perpetuates stereotypes of the poor.

"It is a stereotype, because not everyone who is on the system is using drugs," said Maria Peterson of Lafayette.

Peterson is a single mother of two, who recently fell upon hard times, resorting to welfare and subsidized housing. Fluent in English and Spanish, Peterson is between jobs and is hoping to find clerical work to support her children and get her off welfare.

She says she's never used drugs, but doesn't doubt that some on welfare have used drugs and abused the system, still she hopes her story will shed light on the stigma that often comes with being on welfare.

"We're just regular, ordinary people who are trying to get back up on our feet," Peterson said.

The House Health and Welfare Committee was supposed to vote on House Bill 611 Wednesday but refused to do so. Instead the bill was sent to the House Appropriations Committee, which killed a similar bill last year.

Current law already requires drug testing for some in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare program. House Bill 611 would expand on that current law.

Jim Hummel

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

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