It was controversial right from the start. Proponents saw it as a way to flag folks needing help. Opponents felt it would be expensive and ineffective.

Now some early results have been announced about state testing of people receiving public assistance, and there’s no doubt it hasn’t lived up to some expectations.

A state official updated legislators last week on the program which focuses on folks receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Only four of nearly 900 applicants tested positive.

That’s less than one half of one percent, the Charleston Gazette Mail reported.

West Virginia is one of 20 states to that either drug test welfare recipients or are considering such action. Arizona was the first and began its program in 2009.

This small number isn’t unusual in those other programs either, including Maine where just one man was detected, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary for public health and insurance with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, presented the findings.

As legislators originally debated the proposal, DHHR officials estimated that about 390 people would be detected in the first year at a cost of about $50,000.

Results from the first three months are nowhere near that projection since the program began in late October 2017.

Critics say they are not surprised.

They argued similar programs had not been effective or cost effective.

It was also seen as an unfair way to single out lower income individuals.

Legislators ultimately passed the measure which is based on a similar one in North Carolina.

Benefit applicants must answer 14 questions aimed at determining a “reasonable suspicion of drug use.”

If that suspicion is confirmed, an individual must take a drug test.

Anyone found to answering dishonestly is denied program benefits.

Individuals testing positive are referred to substance abuse treatment or counseling programs along with job skills programs.

Additional penalties may also be applied if individuals in substance abuse treatment lapse and reuse.