Bills Tie Benefits to Drug Tests

    People who want to get public assistance would need to submit to drug testing under legislation proposed by a number of state lawmakers, the Associated Press reported March 26.

    “Nobody’s being forced into these assistance programs,” said Craig Blair, a Republican West Virginia lawmakers who has introduced a bill that would require testing for illicit drugs for anyone applying for food stamps, unemployment benefits, or the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. “If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?”

    In Kansas, the House of Representatives recently approved a bill that would require TANF applicants to submit to drug testing, and similar legislation is pending in Missouri and Hawaii.

    A bill in the Florida Senate would require drug testing as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits. “It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to bring up during a recession,” said Ron Haskins of 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.”

    Tighter state budgets could mean a more sympathetic ear for such measures, said Christine Nelson of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    “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.

    The courts have allowed some drug testing of public-assistance recipients but also have struck down random, suspicionless testing. Some states also have had success with assigning recipients to case workers, who can refer those with addiction problems to treatment but also can recommend that benefits be cut if drug use persists. The interventions can cost less than drug testing, according to Nelson.

    By Partnership Staff
    April 2009

    Published

    April 2009

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