North Carolina House legislators have approved a bill that will institute mandatory background checks for benefits recipients. The measure, passed by a 106-6 margin, comes just days after Texas lawmakers enacted a similar regulation.
The North Carolina bill passed last week requires all social services employees to perform background checks to screen welfare and food stamp applicants with outstanding arrest warrants and other active violations. Social services employees would have to report applicants to law enforcement.
The bill, proposed by Republican Dean Arp, now moves to the State Senate. Arp admitted that federal laws already prohibit those wanted on felony laws from receiving public assistance. Democrats in the House reportedly expressed concern that the measure would add stress on social services employees and unduly characterize the poor in a negative light.
Earlier this week the Texas Senate passed a bill that will force drug tests on welfare recipients, who are provided with money for food, housing, and other basic needs. The current program spends about $90 million on 100,000 Texans annually, with the bill’s sponsor saying that the money “should not be used to support a drug habit.”
Drug testing for welfare applicants and recipients
Welfare drug screening legislation is a welcome addition for many, who are justified in claiming that anyone applying for or receiving welfare should not be an exception to the drug screening rules that many employed taxpayers are subjected to.
Nonetheless, there will also always be critics. Some suggest that drug testing welfare recipients is simply not a cost-effective measure and not a valid use of taxpayers dollars – with money saved being only a fraction of that which is spent on the tests. In addition, the ACLU argues drug testing is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches.
According to NBC News, a new bill was moved forward that, if implemented, will require welfare applicants to submit to drug testing.
Senator Jane Nelson authorized the bill which has already been approved by the state senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. If passed by the full senate, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) applicants will be forced to undergo a drug screening process.
“Drug abuse destroys families, harms children and prevents individuals from living healthy, independent lives. Because TANF is a direct cash assistance program, we have a responsibility to ensure that these funds are not being used to support a person’s drug habit,” said Senator Nelson.
According to NBC, if the bill were enacted applicants who are suspected to be using or have been convicted of previous drug use will be subjected to drug testing.
Randy Collins, Orange County drug lawyer, has worked with several drug users and feels that the bill has the potential to be destructive. “Taking initiative to try and decrease drug use by welfare recipients is a concept that we fully support, but we do not agree with Senator Nelson’s course of action. Whether or not a mother and/or father are using drugs, if they are in a position that does not allow their children to receive aid for their basic needs there is a problem. Also, there is little clarification as to what type of drug use will result in the loss of government aid. Will Marijuana use keep families from receiving food and other necessities?” said Collins.
One hundred thousand Texans a year are enrolled in TANF, according to Nelson’s office. The bill will go to the Texas House of Representatives if it passes a vote in the full Senate.
A controversial bill in Texas that proposes drug screening for welfare recipients would only be fair if applied to all who receive taxpayer dollars – including elected officials, said Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont).
The bill, filed last month by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), would authorize the use of drug screening for recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and unemployment benefits, according to information on the governor’s website. Deshotel said he was disappointed that state leaders such as Perry, Nelson and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were singling out poor families in supporting the bill.
“There is no evidence that poor people abuse drugs more frequently than any other socioeconomic group, therefore I challenge Senator Nelson, Governor Perry and Lt. Governor Dewhurst to support adding a drug test requirement to the application to run for state office in Texas,” he said in a news release.
Welfare drug testing
Welfare drug screening legislation would be a welcome addition for many, who are justified in claiming that anyone receiving welfare should not be an exception to the drug screening rules that many employed taxpayers are subjected to.
Nonetheless, there will also always be critics, particularly when it comes to such a controversial topic. Some critics suggest that drug testing welfare recipients is simply not a cost-effective measure and not a valid use of taxpayers dollars – with money saved being only a fraction of that which is spent on the tests. In addition, the ACLU argues drug testing is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta will hear arguments in a legal challenge to a Florida law requiring welfare applicants to pass a drug test, and the ultimate outcome could affect similar efforts in other states.
Florida’s law, adopted in 2011, required welfare applicants to pay for and pass a drug test to receive benefits. It was in effect from July through October last year before it was temporarily blocked by a federal judge who said welfare drug testing may violate a constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Florida has argued that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits are meant to ensure family stability and child welfare during times of financial crisis and to prepare parents to get and keep a job so the assistance is temporary. The state argues drug use by recipients undermines both those goals. ”TANF dollars must be spent on TANF’s purposes — protecting children and getting people back to work,” said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The ACLU argues drug testing is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches, and filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
After the judge temporarily blocked Florida’s law, that state was force to retroactively pay nearly $600,000 in benefits to thousands of applicants who failed or refused to take the drug test during the four months that the law was in effect. Federal law does not prohibit states from testing welfare recipients for use of controlled substances or from sanctioning recipients who test positive.
“What has held some states up is the constitutional issues around suspicionless, random testing,” NCSL policy analyst Rochelle Finzel said. “States have struggled with getting around some of those constitutional issues and implementing laws so that they’re not violating people’s rights.”
Legislatures in 28 states this year and 36 last year have considered proposed legislation requiring drug testing for at least some welfare recipients, and they will likely be watching to see how far judges are willing to let the laws go.
State officials in Tennessee are eyeing drug-testing programs for welfare recipients in six other states as they work on a similar effort in their own state, according to The Tennessean.
Legislation approved this year mandates the drug-testing program and gives the Department of Human Services until January 2014 to finalize a plan. Over the next two years, the department must submit quarterly progress reports to two General Assembly committees.
“The Department hopes to gain insight on how other states have implemented their policy as well as any obstacles that they have faced along the way,” Department of Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter wrote in a four-page letter that serves as the first progress report.
Welfare drug testing has been a hot topic of debate for a while now, and the new state law in Tennessee requires suspicion-based drug testing for anyone seeking aid through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal welfare program administered by states. Tennessee officials researched similar efforts in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah.
In all six states, failing a drug test would make a resident ineligible for benefits for a defined period of time, ranging from one month to three years. Although most of the states have provisions that would reduce the amount of time if the person enters a drug rehabilitation program.
Any sort of drug screening legislation will no doubt be a welcome addition for many, who are justified in claiming that welfare recipients should not be an exception to the drug screening rules that many employed taxpayers are subjected to.
Nonetheless, there will always be critics, particularly when it comes to such a controversial topic. Critics claim that drug testing welfare recipients is simply not a cost-effective measure and not a valid use of taxpayers dollars – with money saved being only a fraction of that which is spent on the tests.
What’s your opinion on drug testing for welfare recipients? Are you for or against it?
Welfare drug testing is nothing new. It has been causing debate for a while now, as we see drug testing for welfare recipients legislation being introduced in states across the country. Florida has certainly been one of the key states in this debate.
The debate has taken another turn, as Rep. Paige Kreegel claimed last week that about 800 refused to take the welfare drug test in Florida, and the assumption should be that ”a person would (only) refuse to take a urine drug test because they were afraid of being caught with drugs”.
How valid is this number?
While only 83 failed the drug test, if you include the 800 or so that refused to take the test, then “all together there’s 1,000 people out there on drugs. Nine out of ten of them are smart enough not to take the drug test”, according to Kreegel.
The drug test is the final requirement to receive temporary cash assistance, or TANF as it’s called, after the agency verifies an applicant’s income, background, child support and ID. Applicants pay an average of $35 for the test up front and are reimbursed by the state if they pass.
Although sources are not sure where Kreegel learned that 80 or so people failed the test, or that 800 or so people declined to take it, though he said it was from a newspaper story. Several stories were found that measured the requirement’s effectiveness throughout its tenure, but they didn’t use those numbers.
Kreegel’s figure of about 80 failed tests is not far from the tally over four months of practice, according to the Department of Children and Families, which administers the TANF program. He actually underestimated it.
Of the 4,086 applicants who scheduled drug tests, 108 people failed their tests, a fail rate of 2.6 percent, according to DCF. About 1 percent of applicants, or 42, scheduled tests but canceled them.
About 96.3 percent of applicants passed the screenings. The high pass rate means the state paid out more than $100,000 in reimbursements to applicants who passed over the four-month period.
Aside from the obvious, why would people refuse the drug test?
“There is no way to determine why someone did not take the test,” said Joe Follick, DCF spokesman. “We did not have the capacity or legal authority to survey each applicant’s decision-making process.”
They might not have enough money to pay for the tests up front and wait for state reimbursement. They might find a job in the meantime and not need benefits. They might leave the state for work or for personal reasons. They might qualify for other benefits that make them ineligible for the program. They might be unable to find a nearby testing center.
As you can see, there are various other reasons people may wish to not take a drug test. However, this doesn’t deter supporters of the legislation. What do you think? Should welfare recipients be drug tested?
Tennessee state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he wants to press ahead with legislation “to make sure that we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits.” This means that Tennessee joins a long list of states who have/are planning to implement drug testing for welfare recipients.
But it doesn’t stop there.
He also said tentatively that it’s “fine with me” if corporate executives whose businesses are awarded millions of dollars in state taxpayer cash as incentives to create jobs in Tennessee are subjected to the same drug tests as the recipients of welfare and food stamps that he wants tested.
A “class-less” stance which certainly seems more fair at first glance – but we are yet to see the public response. One would certainly think that taxpayers would appreciate the regulation of where their tax dollars go but, considering the criticism that a lot of similar legislation in other states has received, we can expect much of the same.
“We will have some legislation ready to go on that. I can’t tell you exactly what it’s going to be right now but it will deal with making sure that when people apply for unemployment compensation that they’re supposed to get it, and second of all, I still want to make sure that we’re drug testing practically everyone getting any kind of government benefits,” Ramsey said.
Workers who are fired from their jobs for cause, rather than being laid off for economic reasons, are ineligible for unemployment pay, but Ramsey told reporters Dec. 15 that he believes that “nine times out of 10,” ineligible individuals are approved for jobless pay anyway. When pressed for evidence, he said he wasn’t sure it was nine out of 10 but added, “I will say a majority of the time.”
However, as is the case with other legislation, there is a question over how constitutional drug testing in this manner really is. Gov. Bill Haslam is not sold on the concept of drug testing recipients on state assistance, for largely this reason. He also questions whether it is cost-effective in the long run.
What are your thoughts of drug testing for those who receive government benefits? Are you seeing similar legislation in your state?
You may recall that back in May of this year, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Senate approved a measure that requires all recipients of the state program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to pass a drug test before receiving benefits.
Four months later, and the law has had a very bumpy ride. The criticism has remained vivid and now, the Orlando Sentinal has declared that State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has filed legislation to repeal the requirement that all welfare applicants first pass a drug test.
“It’s the bad economic times that have driven many people to apply for benefits,” Joyner said. “Why should these people who are for the first time in their lives asking for help and most of it temporarily until they can get their jobs back, why should we subject them to having a drug test?”
The law has come under attack from several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a lawsuit to stop the testing. The cost of the test – roughly $30 – is refunded if the applicant passes and those who fail can’t reapply for at least a year.
The Department of Children and Families is still compiling data from its first month and a half of testing, so any conclusive results on whether the policy is effective or not will not be available for several more months.
However, a new report from the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank, estimates that the new law will save Florida $9.1 million in the next year.
Joyner said if the state wants to test, it should have some sort of reason to test the recipients, such as a prior conviction or history of drug use.
What are your thoughts on welfare drug testing? Do you agree or disagree?
Only last week we saw Missouri state senators giving final approval to a bill that would require those on welfare to submit to drug testing, and it seems that Florida is following suit. The Florida Senate approved a measure that will require all recipients of the state program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, and while such a move faces the same criticism as proposals across the country, the overwhelming view is that this is the right move.
As the Florida Independent previously reported, Florida tried to drug-test welfare recipients 10 years ago, but a pilot program found it was a waste of money. This new proposal would requires TANF applicants to pay for the drug tests, but recipients who pass the drug test would be reimbursed for the cost of the test. The obvious intention of such testing is to save taxpayer money, but this assumption was placed under great scrutiny by the CLASP report “Random Drug Testing of TANF Recipients is Costly, Ineffective and Hurts Families”. The report states:
“Mandatory drug testing for parents applying for or receiving assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has been proposed repeatedly over the past few years. Legislators in at least 27 states have proposed suspicionless drug testing with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits as well, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance and food assistance. Proposals for mandatory drug testing of TANF recipients are based on stereotypes and not evidence. Proponents often claim that drug testing will save money; however, this is based on a false assumption that many applicants will be denied benefits. Random testing is a costly, flawed and inefficient way of identifying recipients in need of treatment. Better alternatives exist and are already being implemented to address drug abuse among TANF beneficiaries and ultimately reduce their barriers to work. Moreover, universal random drug testing may well be unconstitutional.”
Without doubt it is some quite harsh criticism, but seems to echo much of what opponents to welfare drug testing have been saying for some time. As more and more states start to introduce this sort of legislation, there is no doubt opponents will jump on any failures and use them in their arguments for ending these sort of programs. With the pilot program in Florida failing ten years ago, it will be interesting to see which direction it will go this time.
Missouri state senators on Thursday voted to give final approval to a bill allowing the state to drug test certain welfare recipients, according to the Missouri News Horizon. This is a huge decision in what has been a much-debated topic, and could have a massive effect on social welfare in the future.
The bill, which will be sent back to the House of Representatives to approve final changes, would allow the state to test Missourians who receive money from the federally financed Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program if reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use exists.
While the drug screening of welfare recipients has been debated back and forth in various states and by various experts throughout the first part of this year, until now the perception had been that while it could greatly reduce welfare spending, it would be unfair and unethical to take financial aid from children and other members of a family because of one individual’s illegal behavior.
Officials in Missouri have worked around this by including contain provisions that would allow payments to continue being made to children and non-drug abusing members of the household. It would also allow for continued payments if the recipient enters a drug treatment program. Legislative staffers estimate the cost to the state for testing could be $2.3 million – a small percentage of the savings that will surely come of it.
Considering that such bills have already failed in Michigan, Arkansas and Kentucky over the last year or so, and this is the trend that most expected to continue due to the negative consequences of implementing this sort of social change, to see such legislation pass is a huge step forward for advocates of drug testing welfare recipients. Welfare recipients and taxpayers across the country will be closely watching developments both in Missouri and in other states.
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