States Push to Drug Test Welfare Applicants

March 12, 2014

Several states are pushing to deny welfare benefits to those who test positive for drugs, says Stateline.

Nearly half of U.S. states are considering measures to drug-test welfare applicants. This issue first began to gain steam about five years ago. Proponents argue that taxpayers shouldn't have to fund drug habits and that the tests would encourage those drug users on public assistance to get help.

  • States were allowed to drug test applicants for the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program as part of 1996 welfare reform, but few states did so until five years ago. Since then, nine states have enacted some sort of drug testing requirement.
  • Courts have imposed some limits on testing. In 2003, a Michigan court struck down the state's blanket-testing of applicants. And in December, a federal judge in Florida told the state that its drug-testing requirement was invalid. The Florida law had been approved by overwhelming margins in 2011.
  • A measure in Alabama has passed the state's senate, requiring anyone convicted of a drug offense to undergo a drug test as part of a welfare application. The applicant would be reimbursed for the test if he passes.
  • Some states have actually started giving personality tests that are designed to detect likely drug users. State Houses in Mississippi and Indiana recently passed such measures. In Indiana, those whose testing results raise a red flag would be placed into a pool with other suspicious test takers. Half of that pool would then be subjected to a drug test.

Have the tests worked?

  • Utah instituted a questionnaire and drug testing policy, spending $30,000 in its first year, resulting in 12 positive tests. In all, 250 people were denied benefits, the majority being because they did not complete the testing process. The state saved $350,000 in unpaid benefits.
  • In the five weeks before the Michigan law was put on hold, less than 10 percent of applicants tested positive for drugs, only 3 percent testing positive for "hard" drugs.
  • The ACLU's analysis of Florida's law found 108 out of 4,086 applicants testing positive for drugs in the first four months of the law.

Tarren Bragdon of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative advocacy group in Florida, said he expects that states will continue to pass these laws. "How do we protect kids and families, and at the same time ensure that people who are receiving public assistance are ready to go into the workforce and become productive members of society?"

Source: Jake Grovum, "Some States Still Pushing Drug Testing for Welfare," Stateline, March 6, 2014.

 

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