A situation that’s drawn the ire of taxpayers for years — drug users and drug dealers who get food, housing assistance and cash benefits through Social Services — is prompting legislation that some Montgomery County lawmakers expect to support.
Though it’s unclear if the idea will draw enough backing to become a law, a minority bill in the state Assembly would require people to take a drug test when signing up for benefits.
If they fail, they would have to go through a treatment program or instead find a job.
“A lot of people have approached me personally about people they know that are on public assistance and also do drugs,” said Amsterdam 5th Ward Supervisor Karl Baia.
“The hard-working taxpayers in this state don’t deserve to be treated unfairly like this. If someone’s smoking crack, people shouldn’t be paying for their food and housing,” Baia said.
Baia is hoping the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors will send a resolution of support for the bill drafted by Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Guilford.
The bill was introduced late in the most recent legislative session, and it’s unclear if it will draw enough support to yield a law, Crouch said Friday. Without support from majority Democrats, particularly Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Republican proposals go nowhere in the Assembly.
However, he said, “You’ve got to get the issue on the table.”
Crouch said he decided to draft the bill because people were complaining to him about seeing known public assistance recipients using drugs.
“People who can’t afford to pay their taxes are supporting their habit,” Crouch said.
Police officers in Amsterdam see the situation frequently, said Amsterdam town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza, a detective with the Amsterdam Police Department.
“We make arrests all the time and do search warrants on houses where people are selling drugs. Oftentimes, we find they are on Social Services.
“We turn them over to Social Services investigators. It’s not reporting income, and that’s one of the violations,” DiMezza said.
The individuals, if found guilty of violating their agreement with Social Services, lose their benefits for a while, DiMezza said.
“Unfortunately, it’s only a short time they’re off the program,” DiMezza said.
Though county supervisors say they support the idea in principle, the difficult part would be figuring out how to pay for the work.
Drug tests themselves cost money, as does the treatment welfare recipients would be required to undergo if they fail the drug test.
“I think it’s worth discussing. I guess the problem becomes who’s going to pay for the testing,” said Palatine Supervisor Sieds Jonker.
“Is that going to be an added cost to the county, is the state going to pay for it or what? By the same token, I think if we can identify those that have an abuse problem, perhaps we can help them and get them into the mainstream of society sooner,” Jonker said.
The bill, numbered A-10600, was referred to the Assembly’s Social Services Committee in April.
The Montgomery County board’s Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss a resolution supporting the bill during a meeting Tuesday.
Categories: Schenectady County