These programs are widely used in rural areas where poverty persists. Opponents say the laws reinforce stereotypes about the poor, while proponents say they will prevent misuse of tax dollars, A.G. Sulzberger of The New York Times reports.
In Arizona, Teri Walker of the Arizona Journal reports that if applicants applying for assistance answer "yes" to a question about recent drug use, they are tested and risk losing their benefits for a year if they test positive. Sulzherger reports that only 16 out of 64,000 applicants answered "yes," and the estimated savings as a result were $116,000. Walker reports that the bill establishes random drug testing every two weeks for welfare recipients. If recipients refuse to take the test, their benefits are cut off.
The testing program in Missouri will initially cost $600,000 to $900,000, reports Rebecca Berg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Officials will be looking for "reasonable suspicion" of drug abuse as a means to pick who gets tested. Recipients could lose benefits for three years if they test positive, but children can still receive benefits through a third party if a parent loses benefits. In Indiana, drug testing is now part of the application-for-benefits process. If a person tests positive or refuses to take the test, the application will be denied. If they later pass a second drug test, benefits will be restored.
Sulzberger reports that most drug testing bills have failed to receive support because of legal fears stemming from a court ruling in Michigan that drug testing laws violated constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure. In Florida, where those receiving benefits have had to pay for their own drug tests since July, the number of applicants for programs has dramatically decreased. There's also dispute that cost of administering drug tests would far outweigh the small amount of savings these laws would create.
Proposals for drug-testing bills increased when Republicans won majorities in numerous state legislatures last year. While advocates for the poor contend these laws "single out and vilify victims of the recession," proponents say drug testing for benefits is no more invasive than drug testing as part of applying for a job. Measures to prevent known drug abusers from receiving benefits are already in place in some states, but because state budgets are currently stretching thinner, an impatience with providing aid to the poor has flourished. (Read more)