- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There’s a growing movement to make sure those on the public dole aren’t also on drugs. The state of Florida is implementing a law passed in May requiring drug testing of all welfare applicants. Missouri enacted a similar law in July. Testing programs are being debated in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Iowa and other states. In these hard economic times, voters don’t want their tax dollars wasted on fueling the habits of junkies.

Americans take a hard line on this dual dependency. A July 2011 Rasmussen poll shows a solid majority favoring linkage between welfare and drug testing. Fifty-three percent believe all welfare recipients should be tested before receiving benefits, 13 percent support random testing, and 29 percent think testing should be used if there was a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use. The view on penalties was even harder: 70 percent believe welfare recipients who are found to be using illegal drugs should have their benefits cut off; 58 percent want the rule to be one strike and you’re out.

Under Florida’s law, applicants for Federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) who test positive for controlled substances will either have to complete a substance-abuse program or be banned from receiving benefits for a year. Under Missouri’s law, only those reasonably suspected of using illegal drugs would have to undergo the test, but the benefits ban for those testing positive and refusing rehab lasts three years.

These state crackdown efforts are sanctioned by federal law. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, better known as the welfare-reform law, provided that states could “test welfare recipients for use of controlled substances” and sanction those who tested positive. Michigan enacted a drug-testing initiative in 1999 but a federal court intervened and halted it. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts cited potential issues regarding the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban. This ruling was particular to Michigan’s law so shouldn’t apply to current efforts nationwide.

In addition to potential privacy concerns, opponents of these measures cite the expense of drug testing. Federal law, however, doesn’t mandate a specific type of test. The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes testing generally, noted a study from Oklahoma that found that testing by questionnaire (as opposed to by fluid samples) “was able to accurately detect 94 out of 100 drug abusers.” What works best can be left to the experts, but something needs to be done.

Proponents of testing programs focus on the negative effects of drug use on the children TANF is supposed to protect. People in the grip of drug addiction have warped priorities and often spend assistance dollars on their next fix rather than care for their kids. Getting drug abusers into rehab is the state’s best line of defense for children and what the addicts need. The alternative - turning a blind eye to the problem and subsidizing illegal drug use until parents are arrested and sent to jail, with the children placed in foster care - imposes even greater social, economic and moral costs. Narcotics addiction isn’t simply a lifestyle choice, and it shouldn’t be a something junkies can indulge at the expense of taxpayers.


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