Raleigh, N.C. — 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.