House tentatively OKs background checks for benefits applicants

Posted April 9, 2013

— The House gave key approval Tuesday to a bill that would require local Department of Social Service offices to conduct criminal background checks on those applying for federal benefits.

House Bill 392 passed its second reading by a 96-22 vote. Final approval is expected Wednesday before the bill goes to the Senate.

Under current law, DSS offices may ask someone if they're a fugitive or conduct a criminal background check, but they are not allowed to share that information with local sheriffs or other law enforcement agencies.

The bill calls for social service workers to call law enforcement if someone applying for Food and Nutrition Assistance, what many people call food stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which are cash payments, is found to have an outstanding warrant.

Reps. Verla Insko, D-Orange, and Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, said they felt the bill violates federal confidentiality laws, noting that the government requires law enforcement to ask for a background check when it believes fugitives and parole and probation violators are seeking benefits.

Sponsor Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, said the bill doesn't conflict with federal law.

"We don't want to jeopardize the aid to the law-abiding citizens by giving aid to the parole and probation violators," Arp said.

Farmer-Butterfield also expressed concern for the safety of DSS staff, noting they already face threats and physical violence from aid applicants.

"The environment in which the staff has to work can get hostile," she said.

Arp said the checks would cost the state $144,000 for computer upgrades, and local offices wouldn't have to pay anything.


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  • dwbenfield Apr 10, 2013

    This has been tried before in other states and it's ended up costing way more money than it saved.
    I know the bill says that the applicant would be responsible for the cost of the drug test. However, if someone needs public assistance, how are they going to pay for a drug test? Will they be required to pay for the test before their application is improved? If so, than that will turn away many who are drug free and eligible because they cannot afford it. If they are not required to pay up front, than the state will lose a whole lot of money because of people's inability or unwillingness to pay.

  • forddp Apr 9, 2013

    LBJ declared war on poverty. The NC GOP is declaring war on the impoverished.

  • Spock Apr 9, 2013

    Come on senators - your turn. Let's run the moochers out of the state!