Welfare Recipients Face Drug Tests

By chillinwill · Nov 25, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    On Tuesday, the Department of Economic Security began requiring urine tests for adult welfare recipients whom officials had "reasonable cause" to believe were illegally using drugs.

    The tests are mandated by a new state law that prevents DES from giving cash assistance to adults who test positive for illegal-drug use. Officials believe the bill, which the Legislature passed during its third special session, could save the state $1.7 million a year in cash assistance.

    As of October, about 22,000 adults were receiving cash-assistance benefits as part of Arizona's welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

    The main goal for lawmakers was for the state to save money in "these dire financial times," said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

    "We don't want people who are abusing drugs to be on welfare," Kavanagh said, "because that means that the taxpayers are subsidizing and facilitating illegal-drug use."

    All adult recipients must now fill out a new three-question statement on illegal-drug use to apply or reapply for DES benefits.

    If answers on that statement provide "reasonable cause" of illegal-substance abuse, the department will notify the adult that they must complete a drug test within 10 days, at the state's expense.

    Drug-test results are usually available within 48 hours. Those who test positive will be denied cash-assistance benefits for a 12-month period.

    In addition, DES officials would administer tests based on reports of possible drug abuse received from law-enforcement or other government agencies, according to DES spokeswoman Kevan Kaighn.

    But a spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department said that law-enforcement officers do not currently inquire about welfare status, nor do they correspond with DES officials on matters of illegal-substance abuse, and have no plans to start.

    "We do not identify people by their social status, if you will," spokesman Officer James Holmes said. "And we absolutely do not report drug abuse, drug arrests, drug anything to DES. There's just no reason to do that."

    The budget committee based the $1.7 million in estimated savings on studies on the number of drug abusers in the population, minus the cost of drug testing.

    Kavanagh said lawmakers modeled the new law after Missouri, which introduced a similar bill earlier this year. Several other states have passed laws requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, as the economic climate has forced more to seek assistance from state aid programs.

    There were 85,799 such recipients in Arizona in August, a 6.3 percent increase over last year, according to an October JLBC report.

    Local and national organizations have taken a stand against drug testing, saying they will cause more harm than good. In a June statement, the Center for Law and Social Policy, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C., called random drug testing of welfare recipients "costly, ineffective" and harmful to families.

    DES officials expect the testing will have minimal impact because those convicted of felony drug charges are already disqualified from receiving cash assistance, Kaighn said. Nevertheless, she said the new steps could deter some welfare participants who use illegal drugs.

    "We want to ensure the integrity of the program," Kaighn said.

    Amy B. Wang
    November 25, 2009
    Arizona Republic

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  1. malsat
    That's disgusting.
  2. old hippie 56
    Here is what the ACLU has to say on this:

    PHOENIX, AZ – Saying budget proposals to drug test welfare recipients and deny benefits to domestic partners are misguided and discriminatory, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today sent a letter to Governor Jan Brewer urging her to veto H.B. 2013.

    "This proposal comes at high price, both financially and morally," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona. "By stripping state employees and their families of benefits and singling out welfare recipients for costly drug testing, the state is creating additional financial burdens for thousands of Arizonans, including hardworking employees and some of the neediest women and children across the state, at a time when people can least afford it."

    In its two-page veto letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona argues that suspicionless, mandatory drug testing is an invasion of privacy and a waste of state funds. The ACLU successfully challenged a Michigan law calling for the random drug testing of welfare recipients. In addition, New York and Maryland discarded their random drug testing plans after finding that questionnaires were more cost-effective. Public officials in Louisiana, Oregon, Alabama and Iowa also decided that there were other less invasive, more cost-effective methods of identifying drug abuse.

    The ACLU of Arizona called the proposal to strip unmarried domestic partners of state and university employees of their health insurance benefits "an unreasonable step backward for Arizona's goal of attracting and maintaining a highly-skilled and stable work force." The organization also points out that "by providing health insurance coverage for married employees and denying access to employees' domestic partners and their children, the state is effectively denying equal pay for equal work."

    The ACLU letter to Brewer can be found on-line at: www.acluaz.org


    More from Texas:

    4/27/2009 - Mandatory Drug Testing for Texas Food Stamp Recipients

    Texas has recently enacted a new law requiring that food stamp recipients undergo drug testing. This new law is just one of many similar proposals regarding testing welfare recipients being debated in state legislatures around the country. With a fight between the state government and civil liberties groups likely, this is an important issue for the drug testing community to watch.

    The Texas law requires food stamp applicants who have convictions for certain crimes within the previous five years to submit to drug testing. If they test positive for controlled substances they will be denied benefits for 12 months. Those who do not test positive for controlled substances will be required to undergo monthly drug tests while receiving food stamps.

    The law goes into effect on September 1, 2009.

    Nationwide Efforts to Pass Similar Legislation

    This is not the first law of its kind. The U.S. Congress considered similar legislation in 2005 although the resolution died in committee. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 10 states (Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, California, Illinois, Iowa, Arkansas, West Virginia, Virginia and New York) are considering random drug testing for food stamps, jobless checks and other state entitlements.

    Highlighted legislation includes:
    • Delegate Craig Blair has introduced legislation to West Virginia. He has generated a great degree of debate, appearing on Fox News to defend his position. He has created a website www.notwithmytaxdollars.com to explain what he hopes to achieve with his bill. His bill would also require drug testing for unemployment benefits.
    • South Carolina is also debating a bill introduced by Representative Rex Rice.
    • Representative David Vitter of Los Angles has requested that applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program be required to undergo drug testing. His changes would also deny benefits to those with prior convictions for drug-related crimes.
    • The Kansas House of Representatives has passed a similar bill. However, even if the state Senate passes the law, the state budget will not allow for the $800,000 needed. The law will not be enacted until there is sufficient funding.

    Whether any of these laws, will come to fruition is unclear. Even the Texas law is probably unlikely to go into effect in its current state by September 1. Two issues seem to stand in the way — cost and legal opposition.

    An Expensive Business

    Drug testing for food stamps could prove to be very expensive. The number of Americans drawing unemployment benefits surpasses 5.7 million. More than 32 million, or one out of every 10 Americans, is receiving food stamps. Drug tests tend to cost between $50 and $150. Obviously, if state governments are paying for the tests, the costs will add up quickly.

    The State of New York, for example, currently has more than 2.2 million recipients of food stamps. At $100 a test it would cost more than $220 million to test each recipient once. Monthly testing could enter the billions of dollars before unemployment and other welfare programs are taken into account.

    To be fair, most states proposing legislation have far smaller populations than New York. Proponents of the legislation claim that while expenses would be incurred, the states would be saving money by not supporting and feeding drug addicts with food stamps and welfare money.

    Forcing the welfare recipient to pay for the test is also likely to face opposition. Especially where monthly drug tests would be required — such as in West Virginia — this would be prohibitively expensive. Critics argue that forcing applicants to pay $1200 a year to get welfare benefits defeats the purpose of welfare programs.

    However, the idea is not entirely without its champions. One state senator in Florida, Michael S. Bennett, is suggesting that all people receiving unemployment must undergo a self-financed drug test.

    "When, the thing is, that when you file for unemployment, basically you're saying 'I'm ready, willing, and — quote — able to go to work',” Bennett told Fox News. “If the person who pays into the unemployment has to pass a drug test to pay into it, surely the people who are taking out would not object to having to pass the same stringent test ... If you're not able to go to work because you can't pass a drug test, why should you draw unemployment?"

    Set-Up for an Interesting Debate

    Bennett’s views seem to be in the minority. However, logistical arguments aside, the legislation faces a different and possibly insurmountable enemy — civil liberties groups. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have announced an intention to fight the implementation of these laws.

    This call to fight the legislation is a set-up for an interesting constitutional debate. The recent history of the Federal courts is on the ACLU’s side. Federal courts have repeatedly struck down attempts at such legislation declaring them unconstitutional because they violate the Fourth Amendment's protection against unnecessary search and seizure. The states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee have all lost court battles within the last decade. However, the cases have never reached the Supreme Court level. All four states abandoned their attempts after the Federal government threatened to withdraw all welfare funding. Thus far, an attempt to require drug testing for any form of welfare has not made it past a Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Texas and other states considering similar legislation may be able to alter their bills to agree with legislative limits laid down by prior court decisions or make a case that there is an exceptional public need for the testing. For example, the Federal drug testing of truck drivers does not violate the Fourth Amendment because there is a compelling public safety issue. If Texas can prove that welfare drug testing would dramatically improve public safety the law may go into effect unaltered.

    This debate is well worth watching. If Texas successfully implements its law, it will set a precedent allowing other states who want to enact similar legislation to do so. Obviously, an increase in these laws would be of strong benefit to the drug testing industry. However, if Texas fails to convince Federal judges that the law is constitutional it could severely limit the application of drug testing.
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