Lawmakers want welfare recipients to take random drug tests

by Caleb Reading

One of the guys over at Red, White and Dude told me about this Orlando Sentinel article:

Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing.

[…] “Nobody’s being forced into these assistance programs,” [um . . . they kinda are . . .] said Craig Blair, a Republican in the West Virginia Legislature who has created a Web site — — that bears a bobble-headed likeness of himself advocating this position. “If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?”

[…] On Wednesday, the Kansas House of Representatives approved a measure mandating drug testing for the 14,000 or so people getting cash assistance from the state, which now goes before the state senate. In February, the Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require drug testing as a condition of receiving TANF benefits, and similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and Hawaii. A Florida senator has proposed a bill linking unemployment compensation to drug testing, and a member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives has a bill requiring drug tests of people who get public assistance under a state program there.

A January attempt in the Arizona Senate to establish such a law failed.

[…] Drug testing is not the only restriction envisioned for people receiving public assistance: a bill in the Tennessee Legislature would cap lottery winnings for recipients at $600. [Cap the winnings so they have to stay on welfare?  Yeah, that’s pointless.]

[…] Particularly troubling to some policy analysts is the drive to drug test people collecting unemployment insurance, whose numbers nationwide now exceed 5.4 million, the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

[…] Although the number of TANF recipients has stayed relatively stable at 3.8 million in the last year, claims for unemployment benefits and food stamps have soared.

In December, more than 31.7 million Americans were receiving food stamp benefits, compared with 27.5 million the year before.

The link between public assistance and drug testing stems from the Congressional overhaul of welfare in the 1990s, which allowed states to implement drug testing as a condition of receiving help.

But a federal court struck down a Michigan law that would have allowed for “random, suspicionless” testing, saying it violated the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At least six states — Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Virginia — tie eligibility for some public assistance to drug testing for convicted felons or parolees, according to the NCSL.

[…] They also cost less than the $400 or so needed for tests that can catch a sufficient range of illegal drugs, and rule out false positive results with a follow-up test, she said.

I work in a drug store (so I know who’s on medicaid and who isn’t).  Most welfare recipients, in my experience, aren’t drug abusers, so mandatory testing is expensive, paranoid, and spiteful.  Testing the tiny percentage that actually give probable cause for a search makes sense, because they’re also usually the ones who also abuse the system, falsify information, and have off-the-books income.  The drug test should also screen for commonly abused drugs then be compared to what medications the person has been prescribed, mostly to check for drugs that aren’t in their system and should be (as in, they’re getting pills with a $1 copay through medicaid then selling them for a huge profit at our expense).

At $400 per test, there had better be a good reason to be testing.  Something that passes 4th Amendment muster.  Also, most of our medicaid patients at the store are children.  Are they going to spend $400 a pop to randomly drug test toddlers?  Total waste of taxpayer money.  Test the ones that give probable cause, absolutely, but don’t waste money testing everybody and treating them like a dirtbag just because they’re living in crappy circumstances.