States Consider Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

By Yetti · Mar 28, 2009 · ·
  1. Yetti
    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.,2933,510707,00.html

    Share This Article


  1. kb13
    This should be common practice! Test them, Test them, and Test them again. There are pretty good reasons why people are underachievers.

    Are you all starting to realize you fell victim to the-
  2. sandoz1943
    What do you do do with the disenfranchised the poor and down trodden. Why you jail them or starve them out. Maybe if they had homes, jobs, education, and access to medical care they wouldn't have to resort to self medicating using illegal drugs. Need someone to explain how they can deny paying unemployment compensation when every employee is forced to pay into it. I'd like my money back now that you sent my job to India. " No sorry we can't do that because you use drugs" besides they could realy use the money to help out with the TARP payments. Lets cut off drug users Welfare and Food Stamps so they can't feed thier children and have to live in streets. Who are they realy hurting? and who is gonna benifit from all this? Give you a guess who gets the $400 a pop for each test? My My that could fund treatment centers since we have people on the waitig list for rehab. Is anyone paying attention? SWIM has her pitchfork sharpened and her torches ready to go just let her know when and where.
  3. runitsthepolice
    Swim supports this. If someone is taking taxpayer money because they cannot support themselves they'd better not be wasting it on drugs. This should be the case even if drugs were legal...
  4. old hippie 56
    Might not be the fact that can't support their selves, times are hard if ya'll hadn't noticed.
    Now, is the state child services gonna take the children from the parent who happen to fail a test because she can't feed her children? Who gonna end paying for their care?
    Why punished the poor when the rich gets a free ride and excessive bonuses from the same taxpayers who will be footing the bill for the drug testing.
  5. EyesOfTheWorld

    Unemployment insurance is not a case of "cannot support themselves", but rather of "were supporting themselves until they got laid off, or their job outsourced to Buttfuckistan etc". Not all drugs cost money, either. Should a swimmer be disqualified from assistance because one of their friends smoked them up or gave them a few lines of whatever for free?
  6. old hippie 56

    From that link, which is quite lengthy, here is a piece that describes the legal ramifications of such tests.

    Random drug testing of welfare recipients is likely unconstitutional under both the U.S. Constitution and some state constitutions:

    • Michigan is the only state to attempt to impose drug testing of welfare recipients – a policy that was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003. The ACLU challenged the mandatory drug testing program as unconstitutional, arguing that drug testing of welfare recipients violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. The case, Marchwinski v. Howard, concluded when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision striking down the policy as unconstitutional.[16]
    • At the time Michigan’s drug testing scheme was struck down, the 49 other states had rejected such a program for a variety of fiscal and practical reasons: at least 21 states concluded that such a program “may be unlawful”; 17 states cited cost concerns; 11 states had not considered drug testing at all; and 11 gave a variety of practical/operational reasons.[17]
    • In halting the implementation of Michigan’s drug testing law, U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts ruled that the state's rationale for testing welfare recipients “could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that State.”[18] Indeed, any of the justifications put forth to subject welfare recipients to random drug testing would also by logical extension apply to the entirety of our population that receives some public benefit and/or that is a parent. It is clear that our constitution – and common sense – would object to the random drug testing of this large group of people, making the drug testing of an equally absurd category of people – welfare recipients – unconstitutional as well.
    • Some states’ constitutions actually offer greater privacy protection to individuals than does the U.S. Constitution. It is very possible that random drug testing schemes for welfare recipients will run afoul of these state-specific protections as well.
  7. sandoz1943
    Here is what is happening in SWIMs home state:

    Appearing on Fox & Friends Monday, Florida State Senator Michael S. Bennett (R-Dist.21) told host Steve Doocy that with the unemployment rate in Florida running between 10% and 11% and increasing, he is concerned that the state will run out of unemployment insurance funds. His idea: while we've all heard of random drug tests for employees, he's suggested random tests for those out of work.

    Bennett explained:

    "I wanted to ensure that people who are qualified for unemployment -- that the money would be there when they actually go down and get unemployment and that we weren't supporting people who were not able to go to work. It was nothing against the people who were using the drugs as much as it was to ensure that the people who needed unemployment, it would be there when they got there."
    So we are going to spend $800 per test to save a little money because the state is running out of money to pay unemployment claims? SWIM has beed forced to pay into unemployment for 24 years and now that she is laid off they want to drug test her so she can get her money back? Please note SWIM does not take any dugs they currently test for or could find with a pee test. This is not about SWIM but she feels this is a stupid waste of money and solves nothing. This hurts everyone and if you don't stand up against it someday it will be you they are screwing with. SWIM has always felt if you don't stand up against whats wrong you are just as guilty as the wrong doers.
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!