Tuesday, February 15, 2011

War on the Poor: Lawmakers in Ten States Mull Drug Testing of Public Aid Recipients

From Join Together: Legislators in at least ten states are considering bills that would require adults on various types of public assistance to submit to drug testing. Supporters have said that testing would save money and encourage treatment, while opponents have claimed it would cost more money in the long run and discourage people from seeking treatment.
In most of the proposed bills, people testing positive would risk losing their benefits, though they could mitigate or avoid the financial impact by entering treatment and/or not re-using illegal substances.
At least two bills would require legislators to be drug-tested as well.
Senators in Virginia passed a drug screening bill 32-7 that would require people applying for, or receiving, certain welfare benefits, to answer questions and then submit to drug testing -- if the screeners believe the person is using.
Bills in Illinois and Missouri would require drug tests for recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), a federal program that provides short-term help with food, rent, and utility bills for pregnant women and for families with at least one child at home under age 19. If the Illinois bill passed, the state would institute a three-county pilot program before expanding statewide. South Dakota defeated a similar bill affecting TANF participants 32-36. 
Not all the bills would limit drug testing to TANF recipients. In Oregon, House Bill 2995 would require drug tests from people on unemployment. A second bill in the same state, Senate Bill 538, would require drug screens from anyone applying for or receiving a wide range of public assistance, including TANF, unemployment, food stamps, and subsidized health care. Kentucky, Nebraska, New Mexico, Tennessee, and West Virginia are all considering similarly broad measures.
Supporters and opponents claim cost, treatment among reasons
Lawmakers who sponsored the various drug-testing bills said they wanted to save money, prevent aid recipients from spending public dollars on drugs, and help people get into treatment. Rep. Mark Venner (R-Pierre) of South Dakota, for example, said he wanted the drug tests to "force parents to spend welfare money to buy food, clothing and shelter for their children," The Associated Press reported Feb 7.
Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mount Vernon) of Missouri told Stl.com on Feb. 8 that TANF would fail if participants were not required to take drug tests.
"I'm not a hard-hearted guy," Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster) of Kentucky told the Courier-Journal on Jan. 18. "I believe there is a need for public assistance for those who need it, but I understand some are using these funds to buy drugs." He said the program would save the state "millions and millions and millions."
New Mexico's Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, (R-Roswell) supports a three-strikes plan. Aid recipients who failed a drug test once would be put on probation, and they would have to go to treatment if they failed twice. Anyone who failed it a third time would be "done," she told Kasa.com Jan. 18. "Those children will be taken from your home. Assistance will go away. If you don't want to comply, move elsewhere."  Read the rest at Join Together
Photo of Kensington Welfare Rights Union by PhillyIMC.
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