Plans to drug test welfare applicants considered in a dozen states
A dozen states already use drug tests to screen those applying for financial assistance, but another 12 are also considering – and wishing to expand – the costly measure despite its limited results.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to go further and have state House Republicans mandate drug tests for unemployment insurance and a number of other state programs. He also wants permission from the Obama administration to drug test food stamp applicants. However, lawmakers haven’t introduced a bill yet.
According to the Huffington Post, drug testing proposals have been submitted in Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.
Along with slashing senior program by 40%, Walker could put "drug testing welfare recipients to waste taxpayer money" on his bumper stickers
— Julie Driscoll (@LibDriscoll) February 12, 2015
Tennessee is one of the states that already passed a law to test applicants for the Families First fast cash assistance (TANF) program, which runs across the US. That began in July 2014, and all applicants were required to answer written questions about drug use. Those who confirm drug use are tested. Of 16,017 applicants in Tennessee, only 37 confirmed drug use and failed drug tests, or the equivalent of 0.23 percent.
“That’s 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to,” Republican state Rep. Glen Casada told the Tennessean. “If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to. This is a good use of taxpayer money.”
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Still, opponents question whether that is actually true. The cost of drug testing is about $25 to $75 per test, and federal law prohibits charging applicants, so states have to absorb the cost of testing thousands of people. Carrying out the program for its first six months cost Tennessee $5,295, including $4,215 to pay for the drug tests.
Texas is another state that is considering drug testing welfare applicants. The Texas Legislative Budget Board recently estimated the full-year cost of implementing such a program to be nearly $30 million.
The Families First program provides temporary cash benefits to families with children that are experiencing financial difficulties, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services website. As part of the program, families must agree to keep immunizations and health checks up to date for their children, keep their children in school, cooperate with Child Support Services to establish paternity, and participate in a work/training program for at least 30 hours a week.
Local reaction to drug testing for some welfare recipients in West Virginia #LiveOnNews9http://t.co/6JJ393cGo9pic.twitter.com/6IEaHdui3O
— WTOV NEWS9 (@WTOV9) February 11, 2015
Some 3.4 million Americans draw TANF benefits, but efforts to drug test food stamp recipients, if successful, would hit far more people, since more than 46 million Americans qualify for the program.
Many critics see the drug testing program as mean-spirited, misguided, and disrespectful.
“You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told WBIR.com. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.”
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Florida has had the most legal problems with its drug-testing law, which was passed in 2011. The program lasted just four months before a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional. Before the court intervened, 2.6 percent of the 4,086 people screened had tested positive.
Many assistance recipients work hard at their jobs, according to census figures; in 2010, almost half of poor or nearly poor single mothers receiving assistance were working at least part time, meaning they were also taxpayers.