First stop on our whirlwind tour: Georgia, where the governor Nathan Deal just signed a law to drug test parents who seek welfare assistance.
The new law requires parents who apply for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to pay for and pass a drug test that would cost at least $17. TANF provides temporary financial help to low-income families with children. Passing the drug test once would be a condition of eligibility to receive benefits.
Now according to Georgia’s 2003 TANF fact sheet, the average cash payout on TANF is $250/month and the maximum is $280, assuming a single mom raising two kids. She can only get this TANF benefit if her gross monthly income is below $784. There is a lifetime limit of four years to receive TANF payments and a component of getting TANF is participation in a “work activity” where she’d probably be drug tested anyway. According to this Georgia State Plan FFY 2009 Changes document:
A work eligible individual is expected to participate in work activities immediately after having been approved for cash assistance. … The only exemption to the work requirement is that a single custodial parent can choose to be exempt from these work requirements if there is a child in the home under twelve months of age.
Deal signed House Bill 861 on Monday 4/15/2012 without ceremony. The bill will likely be challenged in court. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights affirmed it was preparing a lawsuit as the state moved ahead with the mandate. The American Civil Liberties Union has also had issues with the bill, which was among several approved by Deal during the day.
Florida was the first to pass a TANF drug-testing bill in 2011. A federal judge suspended it under a legal challenge that is currently before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven in her opinion said Florida operated a pilot program before implementing statewide testing. The pilot program showed fewer TANF applicants tested positive for drug use than those estimated to use illegal drugs in the general population.
Opponents argue that drug testing of welfare recipients violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. Supporters believe it will save the state money and promote personal responsibility.
Now here’s the part Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t want fiscally conservative Georgia voters to know about:
The State of Georgia will be reimbursing the TANF recipients who paid for and passed their $17 drug test, which, by the way, actually costs about $30. It will cost more taxpayer dollars to drug test welfare recipients than taxpayer dollar saved withholding the TANF money a single mom uses to feed her two kids when she’s scraping by on $784 a month!
On average, about about 3,896 adult Georgians received TANF benefits each month in 2011. … Benefits generally fall into a range from $200 to $700. If we assumed that, like Florida, 2% of TANF beneficiaries tested positive for drugs, nearly eighty Georgians applying for TANF would be denied for at least a month until they could retest positive. In monthly savings, this would probably come out somewhere between $16,000 and $56,000 a month. …
However, the cost of testing TANF recipients every month should also be factored into the equation. … If all 3,896 potential TANF recipients were drug tested, and only 80 tested positive, the net monthly cost to taxpayers of reimbursing those who passed the drug tests would be about $114,480, nearly double the monthly savings. This does not take into account the cost of state employees to administer the drug tests, the potential costs to the state of rehabilitating drug users who hope to be able to reapply for benefits, and the increased bureaucratic costs of expanding the Department of Human Services in this manner.Georgia’s controversial plan to mandate drug testing for all welfare recipients and other beneficiaries of government assistance got a big endorsement back in February from Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.
"Well my own view is, it’s a great idea. People who are receiving welfare benefits, government benefits, we should make sure they’re not using those benefits to pay for drugs. I think it’s an excellent idea." Mitt Romney
One Iowa Republican this week decided that such measures are not enough. During debate over Iowa’s budget, state Sen. Mark Chelgren (R) proposed that people who receive child support payments also be forced to submit to drug tests on the whims of the person making the payments:
Iowa parents who receive child support on behalf of their kids would be required to submit to drug tests as frequently as every six months under a controversial amendment to a budget bill that was laughed at and ultimately withdrawn today in the Senate.
The proposal came from Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa who said he was pushing the idea on behalf of an unidentified constituent who believed his ex was using child support money for illegal drugs.
Illinois legislators have presented legislation allowing a person that pays child support to request the recipient to be drug-tested. The requester would be responsible for paying the cost of the drug test, but the recipient would be mandated to take the test prior to funds being released.
Well, what else might the ex have been using child support money for? Dinner and drinks? A new outfit? Movie tickets? By God, we ought to create Child Support Debit Cards, where the non-custodial parent loads up funds and the custodial parent can then use the card for shopping for the kids. Whenever the card is swiped, a text message is sent to the non-custodial parent, who can then approve or deny the purchase with a handy smartphone app! Yes, lets give vindictive exes battling over child support the extra threat of drug testing to hold over their child’s custodial parent’s head, that’ll help.
A Republican congressman has proposed drug testing people who apply for unemployment insurance.
The bill by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) would require unemployment claimants to pass a drug test if they are identified in an initial screening as having a high probability of drug use.
The proposal comes as Congress is mulling a reauthorization of federal jobless benefits for people out of work six months or longer. House Republicans have been drafting legislation, but the details have not been released.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Wednesday that Republican legislation would "reform" unemployment insurance. "We are working on a bill to stop a tax hike, protect Social Security, reform unemployment insurance and create jobs," Steel said.
Indiana was among the states where Republicans pushed laws requiring drug tests for various government benefits in 2011; and the state GOP successfully passed a version requiring unemployed workers to undergo drug tests for unemployment benefits or to participate in the state’s job training program. Anyone who didn't pass such a test, the law stated, was considered to have “refused an offer of suitable work.”
In the immediate wake of the laws, little evidence has emerged that they were necessary. The first round of drug tests on those participating in the job training program, in fact, yielded just a 1% rate of failure, the Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney reported back in January of this year:
Just 1 percent of participants in an Indiana workforce training program failed their drug tests, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Development.
The department launched its drug testing scheme last July in response to complaints from local businesses that job applicants couldn’t pass drug tests, a department spokeswoman said. But of 1,240 job applicants tested from July to December, only 13 failed the test. Three additional people refused to provide a urine sample and seven submitted urine that was too watery.
Despite their unwillingness to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, Republicans have been reluctant to extend unemployment insurance and the payroll tax break that middle class families depend on more than ever. President Obama has noted that if Republicans vote no, middle class families will have to pay an additional $1,000 in taxes next year.
Republicans have willfully ignored evidence that drug testing requirements cost more money than they save and welfare recipients actually use drugs less than other groups.
How do we get to this place where America has gone from the land of the free and the home of the brave tothe land of the pee from the government slave? Yes, America is caught up in Drug Testing Fever. Unfortunately for the American economy, such a fever does come with some nasty symptoms, like under-employment of talented labor and employement shortages for skilled labor.
All these “drug testing for benefits” laws come down to public concern that the recipient may be “spending money on illegal drugs”. Yet I see people using assistance money to buy overpriced sugared breakfast cereal for their kids, a six-pack of beer for themselves, and a couple of lottery tickets… where’s the outrage there?
Political parties are notorious for pushing their agenda, especially in election years. They fight as hard as they can to win the votes of their electorate. Never before has one side of the aisle pushed their agenda as hard as the Republicans are pushing during this election year. It appears that the conservatives have decided they are no longer going to pretend they don’t want to see America digress back to a time when women knew their place and no one has sex before marriage.
The past several months have been very trying. We have seen a woman testifying in front of Congress about birth control pills and the benefit to women with health issues called a slut. She was asked to testify and did as she was asked. She was explaining situations where women who had serious medical conditions and because they were not allowed access to their medication (which happened to be birth control pills), they suffered serious consequences. The conservatives wanted to not only silence her, but also let anyone else considering speaking out that the consequences would be dire. We have seen threats made to stop funding to family planning to prevent women from having access to birth control, abortions and other medical potentially life-saving medical care. I do believe the message is: If you are not married, stop having sex. If you don’t work, you are on drugs.
This has gone on for too long and it has gone way too far. It is time to say enough is enough.