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Town continues to explore General Assistance drug testing

MADAWASKA, Maine — Town officials took no action Tuesday, July 19, while awaiting more information about a proposal to randomly drug test applicants for municipal general assistance. Town Manager Ryan D. Peletier had no draft plan to present to the Board of Selectpersons at their regular meeting, but did update them on feedback he has received.

In June, the board gave approval to move forward with developing a policy that would require random drug screening for its general assistance program, which assists eligible residents with paying for necessary living expenses.

Tuesday, Pelleter cited a recent WABI poll that showed 89 percent of those responding supported the idea of drug testing.
Pelletier added that much of the feedback he has received about the proposal has been positive, including reaction from Maine’s Governor Paul LePage.

In an Associated Press story carried by the Sun Journal website on July 18, LePage expressed support of Madawaska’s efforts to implement a drug testing program.

“Ensuring our welfare programs are helping those who are truly needy and willing to work toward economic stability is important,” LePage said in that article, calling it “fiscally responsible.”

Expanding testing for welfare programs has been a long-term priority of LePage. Maine passed a law in 2011 affecting the federal-state Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, allowing it to test some applicants who have been convicted of drug felonies and current recipients who are drug felons.

“There is a lot of research and details left,” Pelletier told board members, before they can expect to have a local drug testing program to review.

Pelletier presented board members with letters from the Maine Equal Justice Partnership and Maine chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, urging the town to reconsider the drug testing policy.

Pelletier said he was open to listening to anyone with concerns or suggestions about the proposed program.

“We want to discuss issues with people as we develop this,” he said.

The 2016-17 town budget includes $16,600 in General Assistance benefits for eligible applicants. Last year, Madawaska approved 46 out of 88 applicants for some level of general assistance, according to Pelletier.

At a board meeting in June, Pelletier said there were no other municipalities in Maine requiring such drug testing. Changes to the general assistance ordinance would ultimately be put before voters at a town meeting, Pelletier said.

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