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Groups Push to Reject WV Bills Seen as Punitive


Thursday, April 1, 2021   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Advocates for impoverished people are urging West Virginia lawmakers to oppose two bills being heard in a House committee Thursday, that they claim punish low-income people and drug users.

Senate Bill 387 would make permanent a pilot program that screens recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, for drugs.

Josh Lohnes, food policy research director at West Virginia University, thinks the bill places an unnecessary burden on low-income people and is a waste of taxpayer dollars since not many recipients test positive.

He pointed out the bill would restrict access to cash for the most vulnerable families with children during the pandemic, when they need assistance most.

"This is anti-poor legislation," Lohnes argued. "It's discriminatory, and there's this notion that the poor are irresponsible with their funds, that they don't know how to manage money, and they're going to go and use state funds to buy drugs, which is absolutely untrue."

Supporters of the bill say it's meant to help folks with substance-abuse problems get clean.

West Virginia is one of only 15 states in the nation to require drug screenings for cash assistance.

The second bill the House Committee on Health and Human Resources will consider would make it more difficult to run harm-reduction programs such as needle exchanges and syringe services that decrease the spread of diseases.

Jill Kriesky, retired associate director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environment Health Project and author of a West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report on harm-reduction solutions in the state, said the bill's requirements would make the programs too expensive to run and harm folks who depend on clean equipment.

"People who don't have access to clean syringes will reduce or share syringes, and diseases that are carried through used syringes like HIV and hepatitis C will increase significantly," Kriesky predicted.

She added the bill's provisions go against the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will cost more money for medical care.

Advocates for Senate Bill 334 say the programs cause needle litter and needle-stick injuries and pose a risk to the public.

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