Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

(Photo courtesy of Fox Alabama)

Drug testing assistance recipients

As we discussed several weeks ago in Muncie Voice’s article titled “Indiana Bill Will Force Needy Families to Pass Drug Tests“, HB 1483 passed the House by a margin of 78-17 continuing Indiana’s decline into irrelevancy by becoming even more backward. Even though we might stop and listen to a self-righteous public officials talk about widespread drug usage among welfare recipients, the facts don’t support their case.

As we know in Indiana, facts don’t mean much when you dealing with a republican supermajority who are hellbent on pushing their ideology on Hoosiers, even if it means rolling back decades of progress. The bill, authored by Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville) and co-authored by Rep. Wes Culver (R-Goshen) would require a county office to administer a “personality exam” to individuals applying for TANF benefits.

If the “personality exam” indicates the recipient may be likely to use drugs in the future, they will be subjected to drug testing. Based on the results, if the county office considers an individual to have reasonable suspicion of illegally using a controlled substance, they are placed into a separate group for further testing. Fifty percent of that group is then randomly selected to take a drug examination.

Why are we singling out welfare recipients for drug testing when there are millions receiving government money for a variety of reasons? Are people on welfare more likely to be substance abusers?

Not by much, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The administration states that 9.6 percent of people living in households receiving government assistance used illicit drugs in the previous month, compared with a 6.8 percent rate among families who receive no assistance.

If the Bill is about helping people with drug addiction, maybe we should subject the same personality exam to all Indiana legislators. Do you think we would find any addicts who receive a government salary? Any alcoholics?

We don’t think it’s about assisting addicts with getting help either.

Advocates for the poor say the testing policies single out and vilify victims of the recession, pushing the idea that people on public assistance are more likely to use drugs. They also warn that to the extent that testing programs were successful in blocking some people from receiving benefits, the inability to get money for basic needs would aggravate drug addictions and increase demand for treatment.

So, maybe it’s about saving money, right?

According to the figures being shared in Indianapolis, the program’s cost is estimated at $2.9 million which far outweighs the $300,000 in benefits potentially saved. When your ideology is centered around fiscal conservatism, a significantly negative return on investment makes no sense at all.

“It really speaks to how the politics of the moment are dominating the policy conversation in the virtual absence of any evidence,” said Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago.

An even worse reason to pursue this kind of program is the February 2013 Supreme Court decision over a similar law in Florida, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Florida statute violated the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches

“The evidence in this record does not suggest that the population of [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] recipients engages in illegal drug use or that they misappropriate government funds for drugs at the expense of their own and their children’s basic subsistence,” the court said. “The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior.”

To summarize, why are Indiana lawmakers proceeding down this path when there are really no good reasons?

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.
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