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A dozen states consider drug testing welfare applicants

A dozen states consider drug testing welfare applicants

Drug tests to screen those applying for financial assistance is already being used in a dozed US states, but now another 12 are also considering, in some cases even expanding upon, the costly measures despite the limited results.

RT reports: In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to go further and have state House Republicans mandate drug tests for unemployment insurance and a number of other state programs. He also wants permission from the Obama administration to drug test food stamp applicants. However, lawmakers haven’t introduced a bill yet.

According to the Huffington Post, drug testing proposals have been submitted in Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

Tennessee is one of the states that already passed a law to test applicants for the Families First fast cash assistance (TANF) program, which runs across the US. That began in July 2014, and all applicants were required to answer written questions about drug use. Those who confirm drug use are tested. Of 16,017 applicants in Tennessee, only 37 confirmed drug use and failed drug tests, or the equivalent of 0.23 percent.

“That’s 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to,” Republican state Rep. Glen Casada told the Tennessean. “If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to. This is a good use of taxpayer money.”

Still, opponents question whether that is actually true. The cost of drug testing is about $25 to $75 per test, and federal law prohibits charging applicants, so states have to absorb the cost of testing thousands of people. Carrying out the program for its first six months cost Tennessee $5,295, including $4,215 to pay for the drug tests.

Texas is another state that is considering drug testing welfare applicants. The Texas Legislative Budget Board recently estimated the full-year cost of implementing such a program to be nearly $30 million.

The Families First program provides temporary cash benefits to families with children that are experiencing financial difficulties, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services website. As part of the program, families must agree to keep immunizations and health checks up to date for their children, keep their children in school, cooperate with Child Support Services to establish paternity, and participate in a work/training program for at least 30 hours a week.

Some 3.4 million Americans draw TANF benefits, but efforts to drug test food stamp recipients, if successful, would hit far more people, since more than 46 million Americans qualify for the program.

Many critics see the drug testing program as mean-spirited, misguided, and disrespectful.

“You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs,” Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, told WBIR.com. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.”