AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage announced Wednesday that his administration will begin requiring people convicted of drug felonies to take drug tests as a condition of applying for or receiving cash benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

The launch of mandated drug-testing comes after the Department of Health and Human Services bolstered its drug-testing process to ensure privacy and fairness, according to a news release from the administration.

Implementation of the drug-testing program is subject to a formal rulemaking process within the Department of Health and Human Services, which will publish a detailed proposal this month that will be subject to a public hearing.

“Maine people expect their tax dollars to be spent supporting the most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly and the disabled,” said LePage in a written statement. “We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction. TANF is a short-term benefit that assists families and children with the basic necessities. If someone tests positive for drugs, they are clearly putting their addiction ahead of their family’s needs. Being drug-free is a critical aspect of moving away from poverty and toward self-sufficiency.”

LePage’s announcement is the latest in a series of initiatives, some of them controversial, he has launched during his term in office that are centered around what he calls welfare reform. LePage’s re-election campaign places great emphasis on the governor’s call for reforms.

Some of the initiatives, such as a program to put identification photos on state-issued electronic benefits transfer cards and another program to bar illegal immigrants from receiving General Assistance payments, were carried out in recent months. The latter is the subject of an ongoing legal challenge.

The concept of drug-testing TANF recipients is not new in Maine. Democratic Rep. Paulette Beaudoin of Biddeford proposed a bill to do so last year, but that bill died in a committee. LePage has been talking about launching such a program since 2011, though his early proposals would have barred drug felons from receiving TANF altogether.

Drug testing for welfare recipients has been debated in a number of states in recent years, and Florida began to require drug tests for all people seeking welfare benefits in 2011. The state implemented the drug-testing requirement for four months before a federal judge issued an injunction that put the law on hold, and the Florida law was later struck down.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Maine’s drug-testing proposal aligns with federal law.

“Our rules are drafted according to the knowledge we have gained over the last several months,” said Mayhew in a written statement.

Under the program, a TANF applicant must report whether he or she has a prior drug-related felony conviction. Those who answer yes will be subject to a drug test.

Individuals who test positive for drugs will have the option to be retested and anyone can avoid a termination of benefits by enrolling in a substance abuse program approved by DHHS.

Those who fail to disclose they are convicted drug felons will be found in violation of program rules and face immediate termination of benefits. Details of the proposal will be published in August and must move through the rulemaking process, which will include a public hearing.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.