As The "Drug Testing Dragnet" Widens, The Poor Continue to be Swept In

Heads up: mandatory, suspicionless drug testing is not just about violating your Fourth Amendment rights anymore. According to a recent in-depth look at what journalist Isabel MacDonald calls "The GOP's Drug-Testing Dragnet," it's also about money – and lots of it. MacDonald reports that drug testing companies are eagerly cashing in on the recent urine-sampling frenzy that has impacted recipients of public benefits, government employees, and college students around the country. Not surprisingly, these companies are singing the praises of drug testing to curious lawmakers, while relishing the business boom that has accompanied this pernicious and unconstitutional trend.

In February, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision striking down a Florida law requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants to submit to suspicionless drug tests in Lebron v. Florida, an ACLU case. Introduced in the 2011 legislative session, the law was joined by similar proposals in more than two dozen states. And in 2012, Georgia introduced the charmingly named Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, a virtual carbon copy of the recently-debunked Florida law, which requires all benefits recipients to pass a drug test. But in spite of the 11th Circuit's recent decision, the dozens of state legislative proposals mandating drug tests of individuals who apply for and receive various forms of public assistance do not appear to be losing ground. In fact, just yesterday, the Arkansas senate passed a bill mandating random drug tests for all recipients of unemployment benefits.

The insidious interests that drive these laws are thinly veiled at best. They perpetuate the inaccurate and offensive assumption that public benefits recipients use drugs at higher rates than the general public, and imply that the privacy rights of poor people and communities are worth less than those of the gainfully employed—at a time when more and more people in our country are hurting financially.

But as thousands of Americans struggle to make ends meet and turn to the government for help, drug testing companies are reaping the benefits of their misfortune.

While proponents of the bills have argued that drug testing protects taxpayers from the possibility that recipients of public benefits are spending their hard-earned money on drugs, this claim is baseless. When Florida's law was halted after three months of implementation, only 2.6 percent of benefits recipients tested positive for drug use. (As Judge Barkett stated in her 11th circuit opinion, "[T]here is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a "concrete danger" that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.")

In addition, the unfortunate reality is that public assistance funds scarcely cover the costs of basic necessities such as food and housing. Indeed, because of inflation, the value of benefits has fallen at least 20 percent since 1996 in 37 states. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports, as of July 2012, benefits for a family of three with no cash income for all states were below 50 percent of the Federal poverty line. A family of three in Missouri receives $292 per month, while Tennesseans receive just $185. Doesn't exactly leave much room for drug money, does it?

While Florida and Georgia are attempting to subject all TANF applicants to drug testing, absent any individualized suspicion whatsoever, other states have chosen to infuse some level of suspicion into their drug testing schemes—for instance, by having government employees fill out a questionnaire. But although such schemes may not be as overtly unconstitutional as the Florida and Georgia models, many of them also fall short of constitutional requirements. And one has to wonder why all of these proposals—suspicionless and suspicion-based alike—are targeting poor people, rather than the many other individuals receiving government assistance in one form or another.

At their core, all of these proposals exacerbate existing stigmas associated with receiving public assistance, and create unnecessary hurdles for families that are already struggling just to get by. As more evidence comes to light about who is benefiting from these laws, the reality that this disturbing legislative movement is built on the backs of America's poor has never been clearer.

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imply that the privacy rights of poor people and communities are worth less than those of the gainfully employed—

every employed person I know was required to take and pass a pre employment drug and alcohol test. They are also subject to random, probable cause, and post accident why wouldnt those receiving public assistance or unemployment be subject to the same rules as those of us who are employeed?


You make it out to be an issue of privacy... sir, that's misleading. There are plenty of people who are required to take tests regularly throughout their employment. Govt aid is meant to be used to help a person get back on their feet. If that person is spending all of their money on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs; wouldn't you say that person is abusing the system?


If state and/or federal governments are going to drug test welfare recipients, then why not test ALL government aid recipients, including Medicaid/Title 19, Food Stamps, child care assistance, student loans for college, etc.? Then not one group would be excluded. Yeah it is a stab at the lower income people like myself, but if you want help from the government to take care of your family, you have to do what you have to do.


This is not welfare, the children pay it back. The Government intercepts the child support. These are the questions that need to be answered. What are the rules on suspicion, is it what Joe the plumber thinks is suspicious or what Mary Lou the DHHS clerk thinks is suspicious? When the custodial parent fails the drug test, why is the DHHS appointing A PERSON to act as protective payee and not the other parent? What happened to COURTS appointing conservators? Now the DHHS does this without notifying the other Parent or Court Ordered Joint managing- conservator-Obligor Parent who is on the hook to pay back the TANF? Why are the children being forced to support the Non-working-dope fend- custodial parent and the DHHS appointed Non- Working-SO- CALLED Protective Payee- Adult Squatter living in the child's home. Why not just place the child in the home of the Non- dope fend-working parent then the child will not need nor be eligible for TANF.
PS; Why do I have to prove I am a human visitor. Why can't I just program my robot to be my Spokesman? I got a lot of things to do. I am Protective Payee for some dudes child and I need to go shopping and buy guns, ammo, alcohol, condoms and lube at Walmart with The child's TANF cash.


I am employed in the aviation industry and am required to take pre-employment, post accident, and random drug and alcohol testing. Why is it fair for someone who receives my tax money to not be subject to the same requirements?

How about this, if I have to be subject to these test, and the people receiving my taxes do not, then lower my tax rate, or let me be exempt from paying.


I have had plenty of jobs where drug testing is not required..In fact, I have never been drug tested to get a job. The fact that people on welfare can go to the doctor, someone they are supposed to trust, and get secretly drug tested, is ridiculous.


IF you take money from the government you relinquish your rights to use drugs period. You have to get a drug test to get a job and work, why would you NOT be mandated to take a drug test so others can pay for you NOT to work !!!!


Agreed with most of the Anonymous posts here. Who the hell are welfare recipients that they get a pass when it comes to pssng in a cup? If WORKING people have to do it to gain employment, welfare recipients should be NO exception!


If i have to pee in a cup to get a job and make my money then people on welfare should have to pee in a cup to get their money too!!!! I see nothing wrong with it! The only reason more people havent been caught is because those on welfare are given notice to be tested. I say show up at their door on a monday morning and hand them a cup!!!! Surprise!!!!! Now you know how the working class feels!!!!!


You guys miss the point that having a private employer require you to take a drug test is not the same as having THE GOVERNMENT require you to take a drug test.


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