As of the 24th of March 2017, there are at least 15 states that have passed on the legislation regarding the drug screening or testing for those public assistance recipients or applicants. These states include Wisconsin, West Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, Michigan, Kansas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Arkansas, and Alabama.
Some of these states apply only to applicants, while others include among the particular language in which reason is there to believe in the individual that is engaging in illegal drug activity or that they have a disorder of substance use. Others in this regard require specific processes in screening.
Added to that, the state of Wisconsin added a provision for their 2015 budget bill regarding the drug test. This is about certain individuals that that are engaging in employment and training program by the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
It has been indicated by the federal government against the federal law in which it prohibits the states from pressing added eligibility criteria towards the SNAP recipients. The state also sued the federal government in seeking clarity regarding the federal law. Some of these are as followed below.
The law of the state of Florida was halted by the district judge. A final judgment was issued by the District Court back in December 2013. It permanently put an end on the reinforcement of law wherein it stated to have violated the constitutional protections against the unreasonable searches. On the 2nd of December 2014, the ruling was upheld by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals.
The bill of the state of Tennessee needed the department in developing a plan for testing based on suspicion, including a report of its recommendations towards the legislature which was to be done in January 2014. The state then started on the testing program by July 2014.
As of March 2017, there are at least 20 states that have proposed a legislation wherein it requires some form of screening or testing on drugs for the recipients of public assistance, which is also effective this year. The states include Vermont, Texas, South Carolina, Rhode Island, North Dakota, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Nebraska, Mississippi, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Kentucky, Illinois, and Hawaii.
Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Florida already have proposals wherein it will test the applicants that were convicted of offenses that are related to drugs. The proposal made by the state of Arizona only applies to applicants for nutrition assistance that have been convicted of crimes related to drugs.
For the 2017 legislation, Arkansas has passed on the SB 123, which makes the drug testing program in the state permanent.
Arguments on these proposals
Opponents have showered their criticisms regarding these laws as they can be more costly than what they can save.
These drug tests were promoted by some of the Republican lawmakers, making it a hypocritical approach.
The reason for this is because it supports the government paternalism. Executives from the CLASP, a non-profit group, had made statements suggesting that the laws implemented will have some chilling effect on the willingness for the current recipients of the welfare in admitting themselves for the drug treatment.
Short History of the Issue
Substance abuse is a vexing problem that has eluded workable solutions for decades. Because drug abuse and addiction are essentially personal issues trying to legislate ways to deal with the problem are no more likely to succeed than Prohibition was. Solving the problem of drug abuse is not the same as relieving traffic congestion. With traffic problems you can set limits on cars in certain areas or widen roads. With drug addiction you can ban all the drugs you want but because drugs are a deeply personal issue and not an infrastructure issue people are going to find a way around your legislation.
As far as welfare recipients go the idea of drug testing dates back more than 20 years when Bill Clinton first proposed it in his 1996 Welfare Reform Act. That act allowed for drug testing in regards to certain block grant programs for needy families.
Emboldened by the federal Welfare Reform Act many states then attempted to follow suit and now it seems nearly every year a dozen or more states raise the specter of drug testing welfare recipients yet again. Many of these proposal fail to become law. And many more that do are struck down by the courts as being unconstitutional due to the fact that they amount to suspicion-less searches.
Arguments for Drug Testing
In theory the argument for drug testing is compelling. After all, the government has no place doling out taxpayer money to finance drug addiction. Not only that but drug testing can be a good thing if if forces people to face up to the consequences of their drug habits and seek help.
Lastly, many argue that, even if drug testing does not uncover a hornet’s nest of taxpayer financed drug abuse, the government is nonetheless compelled to ensure taxpayer money is wisely spent. And drug testing is one more way of potentially doing so. When legislators simply throw up their hands and say “there’s nothing we can do” they are shirking their responsibilities to the taxpayers they serve.
Arguments Against Drug Testing
Most opponents point to the fact that drug testing routinely costs the government more than it saves. Others believe that, far from causing drug users on welfare to admit their problem and seek treatment, many will simply go further underground and become more desperate. Still others point out that there are likely thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of government employees - who are paid with taxpayer money - who abuse drugs.
So in essence the taxpayer is already subsidizing drug abuse on a grand scale. Yet when a government employee is found to have a drug problem they are commonly offered treatment options, which again are financed by the taxpayer. All this points to a duplicity in the way different people are treated.
But beyond the debate about who if financing what lies the constitutional issue of whether the government has the right to test anyone for drugs without a reasonable suspicion that they are, in fact, taking drugs. The 4th amendment guarantees protection against unwarranted searches and mandating testing for drugs without any proof there may be drugs involved seems like a blatantly unwarranted search.
While it seems unlikely that those who wish to impose drug testing on welfare recipients will back down any time soon, their efforts are nonetheless equally unlikely to gain any significant social traction in the long run.