LEE COUNTY: Veto override means new policy, but no new funds

Sep. 06, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The N.C. General Assembly's recent veto override has left the Lee County Department of Social Services with a new policy to implement — but without accompanying funds to do the job.

House Bill 392, which allows local social services employees to issue drug tests if they believe welfare recipients are abusing drugs, and to determine whether social services applicants have outstanding felony warrants or have violated their terms of parole, officially became law when the General Assembly overrode N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory's veto on Wednesday. The law goes into effect Aug. 1, 2014. 

McCrory vowed to not implement the changes until the legislature found funds for the program. Lee County Social Services Director Brenda Potts said they are now guessing how the new program will work.

"This will increase the workload of the staff, therefore increasing the processing time for applications and recertification," Potts wrote in an email to The Herald Thursday. "In turn, causing a delay in receipt of benefits and reducing the quality of customer service. It would be hard to estimate the administrative cost of this change for the (Food & Nutritional Services, or FNS) and (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF) caseworker's time and the individual conducting the background check or the cost of utilization of a contractor. … Ultimately, what we have here is a new policy to implement and no funds to do it with."

Now, the food stamp and welfare policies have eligibility restrictions in place for those with certain felony convictions, fleeing felons and parole violators, Potts said, adding that these violations are self-reported or found through the North Carolina Department of Corrections.

"The new law sounds like actual structured background verifications will be made on certain members of the FNS household," Potts said. "… The fingerprinting for FNS applicants and the FNS and TANF drug testing requirement will be new for the programs."

She is concerned, she said, with the potential cost of the drug testing and how it will be implemented.

Lee County Commissioner Chairman Charlie Parks, who also serves on the Lee County Social Services Board, said he was glad the General Assembly chose to override the veto to address this issue.

"I have been following this since it was written, and it is something that is well needed. I think it was a good override," Parks said.  "Why should people who are getting welfare and unemployment checks be allowed to take that money and buy drugs? That is your and my tax money."

If employers are allowed to give employees drug tests, then people who are seeking unemployment should also be tested, he said.

Parks added that he doubts McCrory would ignore the law.

"One of the things that might be a concern is that (McCrory) said it wasn't funded at a high enough level," Parks said. "So the legislature has to look at their budgets if it really is that costly. But I think it is something that needed to be done."

The General Assembly also overrode McCrory's veto of H.B. 786, which lengthens the the period of time seasonal workers do not have to have their immigration status checked in the national E-Verify system.  North Carolina Cooperative Extension Director Susan Condlin said about 90 percent of the farming workforce in Lee County comes from the North Carolina Growers Association, which verifies the immigration status of those workers through the federal system. However, this bill may grow the available workforce pool for farmers and that is a positive thing, she said.