Tag Archives: welfare

Drug tests for welfare: 65 positives, 116 drop application

A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of those applying for welfare benefits has yielded few positives for illicit drugs, reports The Tennessean. But scores of people have walked away from the application process.

Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean.

An additional 116 refused to participate in an initial drug screening questionnaire, automatically disqualifying them for benefits.

The total cost of drug testing so far: $23,592.

Opponents of the drug testing requirement point to the small fraction of people testing positive for drugs — less than 1 percent of all applicants tested positive — as a sign the policy is a failure based on an unfair perception that poorer Tennesseans are more likely to abuse drugs.

“I thought the legislation when it passed was ridiculous,” said state Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat. “I still think it’s ridiculous. Obviously the numbers don’t justify the cost, and in other states that have done this program their numbers don’t justify this cost either.”

But Rep. Glen Casada, who voted in favor of the law, disagrees.

“When you add up the 116 (who refused to go through drug screening) to the 65 people (who failed a drug test), that’s 175 or 180 people no longer receiving taxpayer-funded support for illegal activities,” the Republican lawmaker said. “It’s a good investment that those who receive support at the largesse of taxpayers should not be using it to fund illegal activities.”

The average monthly benefit of the cash assistance program was $165 per month in December – or $1,980 per year. The 116 people who refused to take the test otherwise might have cost $230,000 each year, had they gone forward and otherwise qualified for benefits.

150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamps

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An estimated 150,000 Tennesseans could lose food stamp benefits on April 1 if they don’t meet work requirements that were waived for several years because of the Great Recession.

Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin said the agency began sending out notices earlier this winter to people who could lose benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the federal program is officially known.

The program requires able-bodied adults ages 18 through 49 who have no children or other dependents at home to work, volunteer or attend education or job-training courses at least 80 hours a month. If they don’t, their benefits are cut off after three months.

The work requirement was waived during the recession but the waiver ended in at least 21 states, including Tennessee, on Jan. 1. That triggered the three-month limit for recipients to comply with work requirements. If they don’t, they lose their food stamps on April 1.
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DHS proposes cutbacks, cites decline in food stamp, welfare recipients

From The Tennessean:
The state agency in charge of providing food stamps, temporary cash assistance to needy families and child care subsidies for low-income kids is proposing a $3 million budget cut for next year, citing economy-driven declines in the number of Tennesseans dependent on government subsidies.

Department of Human Services chief Raquel Hatter also proposed eliminating staff in a division that oversees fraud, abuse and waste and ensures department accountability — at a time when lawmakers, the Tennessee comptroller’s office and investigations by The Tennessean have raised questions about the agency’s oversight abilities after revealing millions of dollars in questionable DHS payments to subcontractors.

…Hatter’s budget presentation Monday was the first from 26 state agency heads expected to appear before Gov. Bill Haslam this week as he crafts an annual spending proposal that probably will top $34 billion. Haslam has asked all agencies, including DHS, to present proposed 3.5 percent cuts in their budgets.

Six of 97 positions would be eliminated in the Division of Quality Improvement and Strategic Solutions and seven of 125 staff positions would be cut in the the Office of Inspector General, which investigates referrals of potential fraud, waste and abuse in the programs. All of those positions are currently vacant, according to spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin. Jarnagin said none of the proposed eliminated positions are directly related to fraud, and some of the proposed cuts relate to decreasing caseloads in the agency’s food stamp and Families First, Tennessee’s welfare-to-work programs.

The number of families served by the state’s food stamp program has decreased about 12 percent between January 2014 and October 2015, while the caseload for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has decreased by about 30 percent, according to Jarnagin. The state’s child care subsidy program has decreased by 32 percent.

The reductions, Hatter said Monday, “will have no impact on services.”

At a hearing in August, lawmakers quizzed Hatter on whether she had enough staff to adequately monitor fraud and abuse in food programs for low-income children after numerous reports of fraud. At the time, Hatter responded, “I don’t know because we haven’t done an analysis.”

…Since Haslam took office, DHS has cut 838 employees, or 15 percent of its staff, from 5,564 positions in 2012 to 4,726 this year. Two hundred of those job cuts were a result of shifting responsibility for processing TennCare applications to the TennCare Bureau.

In total, Hatter is requesting 131 staff cuts and a $3 million reduction in state funds for the agency for the 2017 fiscal year — between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. The agency’s total annual budget tops $3 billion, with the largest portion funded by federal dollars for social service programs such as food stamps, subsidized child care and welfare-to-work program costs.

TBI: State worker swapped food stamps for sex

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
NASHVILLE – Special Agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have obtained indictments for a Nashville man accused of misusing his position as an Eligibility Counselor for the Department of Human Services.

After receiving information from the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and at the request of DHS and the 20th District Attorney General Glenn Funk, TBI Special Agents began investigating Alfred Awonuga on March 18th. During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that from March 2014 through March 2015, Awonuga used his position to attempt to get a participant in the state’s food assistance program to have sex with him in exchange for benefits. Agents further learned Awonuga manipulated the program in a separate incident by obtaining benefits for an applicant who would otherwise not be eligible in an attempt to get the participant to have sex with him. When she declined, the investigation revealed Awonuga facilitated the termination of her benefits and later communicated with her that he could assist her in getting her benefits reinstated, while continuing to express a desire in a sexual relationship. The agency subsequently terminated his employment.

On August 28th, the Davidson County Grand Jury returned indictments for Awonuga, charging the 48-year-old with six counts of Official Misconduct and one count of Attempted Official Misconduct. Authorities arrested Awonuga and booked him into the Davidson County Jail, where at the time of this release, he was being held on $20,000 bond.

Drug-testing of welfare recipients nets 37 positives in first six months

Six months after the rollout of a controversial law to drug-test people applying for public benefits, the Tennessean reports only a small fraction of low-income Tennesseans seeking financial assistance have tested positive for illegal drugs.

Thirty-seven of 16,017 applicants for the Families First cash assistance program between July and December tested positive for illegal substances, according to the Department of Human Services.

Another 81 lost their chance to receive benefits because they discontinued the application process at some point between the time they were required to fill out a three-item drug screening questionnaire and completing their application.

Opponents of the new rules say that they single out poor people for drug testing over other recipients of federal benefits — such as veterans, college students getting low interest loans or farmers with crop subsidies.

“You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.

“We support the need to combat drug addiction, but if the state truly wants to combat addiction, they should use their resources to fund drug treatment programs rather than blocking access to public benefit applicants, because we’re talking about providing for families,” said Weinberg, noting the ACLU plans to challenge the law in court.

Backers of the law, however, said they are pleased with the results so far.

“That’s 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to,” said state Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from Franklin. “If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to. This is a good use of taxpayer money.”

Tennessee is one of 12 states that have enacted laws requiring drug screening and testing of welfare applicants, but it’s a trend picking up steam elsewhere. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 10 other states so far this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

…In the first six months of the program, the state spent $5,295 to administer the program, including $4,215 to pay for the drug tests….Of the 37 who tested positive, 25 were referred to a drug treatment program.

Four, so far, blocked from welfare benefits by new TN law requiring drug testing

A controversial new Tennessee law to drug-test applicants for public benefits has already resulted in the Department of Human Services disqualifying people seeking aid since the rules went into effect July 1, reports The Tennessean.

Four people were turned down because they refused to participate in any part of the drug screening process. Six other people willingly submitted to a drug test, and one tested positive. Officials with the Department of Human Services say they are making contact with that applicant for further action — which could include referral to a drug treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits or disqualification if the person refuses.

The 10 people affected by the new rules are a small fraction of the 812 people who applied for Tennessee Families First cash assistance program since the measure took effect. The vast majority — 802 — passed the initial written drug screening.

But opponents and backers of the law say they are keeping a close eye on how the rules affect low-income welfare applicants: Will they root out drug users who could potentially abuse the small cash stipend intended to aid families with children? Or are the new rules an unconstitutional intrusion into the privacy rights of poor Tennesseans?

“I think this is a positive step, and I hope that individuals get the help they need,” said state Sen. Stacey Campfield, author of the law, who noted that new rules direct state officials to connect applicants who test positive to treatment programs.

But Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said the law is unconstitutional and the group intends to challenge it in court.

“We don’t test individuals who are seeking government support like farmers, veterans and students, so we have to take a step back and question why limited-income people are being targeted and have to submit to these intrusive searches,” Weinberg said.

Fired DHS worker charged with $150K in food stamp fraud

Authorities say they’ve snared a former state employee and an accomplice in a far-reaching food stamps fraud operation run out of a state office in Lebanon, according to The Tennessean.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said ten indictments have come down against Tracey Deshaye Timbs, 43, of Smith County, and six charges against Michael Nichols, 31, of Gallatin.

A three-month TBI investigation spun out of concerns within the Department of Human Services, which oversees food stamps — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

DHS learned of fraudulent food stamp accounts being created and sold of the Lebanon office on Legends Drive, where Timbs worked as an eligibility counselor, according to the TBI. She also tampered with government records and created bogus benefits cards — at least 40 false accounts with more than $150,000 in fraudulent benefits — including some exchanged for cash and drugs, authorities said.

DHS terminated Timbs, who is charged with identity theft trafficking, official misconduct, food stamp fraud, records tampering and fraudulent receipt of temporary assistance. Nichols is charged with three counts each of food stamp fraud and fraudulent receipt of temporary assistance.

Both were booked into the Wilson County Jail and released after posting bonds. The investigation could lead to more charges, authorities said.

TN DHS gets $5M bonus for improving food stamp services

News release from state Department of Human Services
NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) has been recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for high performance in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

According to the USDA, for the first time in DHS history, it has been recognized as No. 1 in the nation for most improvement in Case and Procedural Error Rate (CAPER), a measurement directly related to improvement in efficiency and customer service. Tennessee’s CAPER rate decreased from 46.28 percent in FY 2012 to 23.51 percent in FY 2013. This rate also falls below the national average of 25.25 percent.

The USDA also recognized DHS as having the sixth best SNAP payment accuracy rate in the nation for FY 2013. This national measure indicates the rate of SNAP cases with overpayments and underpayments based upon benefits for which a household is entitled. This measurement is directly related to program integrity.

“We continue to focus on making state government more customer-focused, efficient and effective for Tennessee taxpayers, and I am grateful to Commissioner Hatter and her team at DHS for their hard work,” Gov. Bill Haslam said.

“A special thanks goes to our staff – frontline and management – who have implemented new business processes that continue to help us identify opportunities to become more efficient, to better address program integrity, manage workloads, improve customer service, and exercise better stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” DHS Commissioner Raquel Hatter said.

DHS’s achievements are accompanied by performance bonuses from the USDA of approximately $5 million, which must be invested in technology, program integrity, and administration linked to the provision of SNAP. DHS will invest the funds in its 21st Century Family Assistance Service Delivery Model and modernization effort.

The Department of Human Services mission is to offer temporary economic assistance, work opportunities, and protective services to improve the lives of Tennesseans. Learn more at http://www.tn.gov/humanserv/.

ACLU eyes lawsuit against TN welfare drug-testing law

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE – A new law mandating drug testing for some Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants goes into effect today. The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) lobbied against the legislation and opposes the law, which raises serious constitutional concerns.

The state legislature passed the drug testing law, T.C.A. § 71-3-1201-1206, in 2012 and gave the Tennessee Department of Human Services two years to develop a plan for implementing the drug-testing program.

ACLU-TN had sent a letter to Governor Haslam urging him to veto the bill, citing concerns that the bill was unconstitutional because it was vague, singled out a particular group for differential treatment, and allowed for an intrusive search without probable cause.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“This law singles out limited-income people and requires them to submit to humiliating and intrusive searches of their bodily fluids because they need temporary help making ends meet. Research indicates that TANF recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than farmers, veterans, and students, who also receive government support. ACLU-TN wants to hear from any potential TANF recipients who do not want to submit to the required drug testing.”

TANF-eligible Tennesseans who are concerned about how this law will affect them should contact ACLU-TN at http://www.aclu-tn.org/gethelp.htm.

Food stamps on decline nationally; not so much in TN

The number of people drawing food stamps declined nationwide last year, according to new federal figures reported by The Tennessean, but not as much in Tennessee as elsewhere.

In Tennessee, about 13,000 fewer people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program, or SNAP, in January compared to the year before — a decline of 1 percent. Nationwide, the drop in enrollment was much a steeper 2.6 percent, leaving a million fewer people enrolled.

“Our hope is that this is going to continue,” said Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Congressional Budget Office has revised downward the program’s projected cost to $728 billion over 10 years, a decrease of about $33 billion.

Still, Tennessee continues to rank among the highest in the nation for reliance on the federal food assistance. Nearly one in five Tennesseans continues to receive food stamps. The high rates have prompted criticisms by some state lawmakers, who have advocated for deeper cuts and proposed restrictions such as banning junk food purchases by recipients.

Proposals to significantly cut or restrict food stamps “often in my view reflect a lack of real awareness of what’s going on in the economy,” said Concannon. “It’s troubling that many legislators are so removed from the circumstances of people they allegedly are elected to serve.”