States consider drug tests for welfare recipients

Postby mnp13 » March 31st, 2009, 2:55 pm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Want government assistance? Just say no to drugs.

Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing.

The effort comes as more Americans turn to these safety nets to ride out the recession. Poverty and civil liberties advocates fear the strategy could backfire, discouraging some people from seeking financial aid and making already desperate situations worse.

Those in favor of the drug tests say they are motivated out of a concern for their constituents' health and ability to put themselves on more solid financial footing once the economy rebounds. But proponents concede they also want to send a message: you don't get something for nothing.

"Nobody's being forced into these assistance programs," said Craig Blair, a Republican in the West Viginia Legislature who has created a Web site — — that bears a bobble-headed likeness of himself advocating this position. "If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?"

Blair is proposing the most comprehensive measure in the country, as it would apply to anyone applying for food stamps, unemployment compensation or the federal programs usually known as "welfare": Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Women, Infants and Children.

Lawmakers in other states are offering similar, but more modest proposals.

On Wednesday, the Kansas House of Representatives approved a measure mandating drug testing for the 14,000 or so people getting cash assistance from the state, which now goes before the state senate. In February, the Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require drug testing as a condition of receiving TANF benefits, and similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and Hawaii. A Florida senator has proposed a bill linking unemployment compensation to drug testing, and a member of Minnesota's House of Representatives has a bill requiring drug tests of people who get public assistance under a state program there.

A January attempt in the Arizona Senate to establish such a law failed.

In the past, such efforts have been stymied by legal and cost concerns, said Christine Nelson, a program manager with the National Conference of State Legislatures. But states' bigger fiscal crises, and the surging demand for public assistance, could change that.

"It's an example of where you could cut costs at the expense of a segment of society that's least able to defend themselves," said Frank Crabtree, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Drug testing is not the only restriction envisioned for people receiving public assistance: a bill in the Tennessee Legislature would cap lottery winnings for recipients at $600.

There seems to be no coordinated move around the country to push these bills, and similar proposals have arisen periodically since federal welfare reform in the 1990s. But the appearance of a cluster of such proposals in the midst of the recession shows lawmakers are newly engaged about who is getting public assistance.

Particularly troubling to some policy analysts is the drive to drug test people collecting unemployment insurance, whose numbers nationwide now exceed 5.4 million, the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

"It doesn't seem like the kind of thing to bring up during a recession," said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "People who are unemployed, who have lost their job, that's a sympathetic group. Americans are tuned into that, because they're worried they'll be next."

Indeed, these proposals are coming at a time when more Americans find themselves in need of public assistance.

Although the number of TANF recipients has stayed relatively stable at 3.8 million in the last year, claims for unemployment benefits and food stamps have soared.

In December, more than 31.7 million Americans were receiving food stamp benefits, compared with 27.5 million the year before.

The link between public assistance and drug testing stems from the Congressional overhaul of welfare in the 1990s, which allowed states to implement drug testing as a condition of receiving help.

But a federal court struck down a Michigan law that would have allowed for "random, suspicionless" testing, saying it violated the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At least six states — Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Virginia — tie eligibility for some public assistance to drug testing for convicted felons or parolees, according to the NCSL.

Nelson said programs that screen welfare applicants by assigning them to case workers for interviews have shown some success without the need for drug tests. These alternative measures offer treatment, but can also threaten future benefits if drug problems persist, she said.

They also cost less than the $400 or so needed for tests that can catch a sufficient range of illegal drugs, and rule out false positive results with a follow-up test, she said.

What a great idea. Seriously. The $400 a pop sounds like BS but the rest of it sounds good to me. If you have money for crack, you have money for food. Sorry.

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Postby cheekymunkee » March 31st, 2009, 3:18 pm

I don't know if it is a good idea or not, in theory, yes. And a drug test cost $16. That is how much mine cost for the last job I held and it tested for all illegal substances. That was a urine test, saliva tests are even cheaper ( but are easily beaten & really only test for pot) they do have blood tests and hair tests that are VERY expensive but I dont think they come near the $400 range.

Truthfully? ANY urine or saliva test can be taken & proven negative unless it is pot, all you have to do is lay off for 48-72 hours & you will test clean. Pot takes at LEAST 30 days unless you are a very light user or have very little body fat. Then again, even a urine test can be beaten.......I've done it. Blood & hair? No way can they be beaten. I have heard you can bleach the crap out of your hair & it will pass but I dont know for sure. Shaving wont cut it, they will just take hair from another part of your body. They do have shampoos that are supposed to work but I have heard different results from them so I would say for the most part, they don't.

Just leave the pot heads alone, we aren't bothering anybody. :) Then again, I havent used any unemployment benefits to buy pot. :wink:
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Postby Pit♥bull » March 31st, 2009, 4:19 pm

mnp13 wrote: If you have money for crack, you have money for food. Sorry.
I agree
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » March 31st, 2009, 4:51 pm

Pit$Bull wrote:
mnp13 wrote: If you have money for crack, you have money for food. Sorry.
I agree

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Postby LMM » March 31st, 2009, 7:19 pm

Yea when I read this title my immediate thought was "ABOUT TIME".

And to be clear, I really have no issues with Mary Jane use BUT just like crack, if you have money for that, you don't need welfare.
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Postby DemoDick » March 31st, 2009, 10:17 pm

I'd rather see legislation requiring mandatory, temporary chemical sterilization for welfare recipients. Drugs I don't care so much about.

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