Poor People Have Rights Too

As reported yesterday in the New York Times , over the past year three dozen states introduced legislation to drug test individuals receiving public assistance. This includes individuals applying for everything from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to welfare, unemployment and Medicare. (Incidentally, you know who isn't being asked to submit to drug testing before receiving public assistance? Bankers, traders and anyone else who received money from the bailout.)

Thankfully, most of these bills have failed, but not all of them have. The most pernicious of them all was passed and was signed into law in Florida and more limited requirements were added in Indiana, Missouri and Pennsylvania . Florida's bill goes so far as to make all people applying for public assistance — who by definition have very limited means — pay for the cost of their drug test. If an individual's drug test comes back negative, the state will then reimburse the cost of the test. If the drug test comes back positive, Florida will bar the applicant from reapplying for TANF for a year (unless they get counseling, in which case they can apply in 6 months). There are no plans to offer any sort of substance abuse counseling or rehabilitation.

These laws are wrong. They are flat-out unconstitutional , shortsighted and will end up costing the state more than any possible savings . But even putting all of that aside, let's stop for a moment and ask ourselves the bigger question of why. Why are we drug testing anyone who isn’t flying an airplane? Why poor people in particular? Some might argue it’s because we can’t have people spending money from the federal government on drugs. But I haven’t heard of any plan to start drug testing students at Harvard who get federal student loans. These laws deliberately separate poor people from the rest of society, asserting that they have less of a right to privacy simply because they are having trouble making ends meet.

Others might argue that people are drug tested for their jobs, so why shouldn’t people have to get tested to receive benefits? Because expanding the indignity of mandatory drug testing to more and more people is not the answer. Employers should not require employees to prove their innocence by taking a drug test any more than the government should be forcing poor people to do the same. Mandatory drug testing, whether as a condition of employment or as a requirement for the receipt of public assistance, is an unnecessary intrusion into personal privacy.

Last month, the ACLU of Florida filed suit in federal court on behalf of Luis Lebron, a 35-year-old Navy veteran, father of a 4-year-old, the sole caregiver for his disabled mother and a student at the University of Central Florida who refuses to relinquish his Fourth Amendment rights by submitting to drug testing at the hands of the state. As he said, “I served my country, I’m in school finishing my education and trying to take care of my son. It’s insulting and degrading that people think I’m using drugs just because I need a little help to take care of my family while I finish up my education.”

These laws target people who have one defining characteristic — they are poor . In a time when more and more Americans need help feeding and clothing their families, the last thing we need are laws forcing poor people to give up their most basic constitutional rights.

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I do not agree with your stance on the drug testing. I pay a lot of taxes. Too much to be paying for deadbeats who don't try to do anything with their lives and sit around using drugs with my tax money. Hell I want to sit around and get paid to do nothing but instead I am studying and going to college to make a better life for my family. I understand that there are people out there that truly need the help and for them I am sure they wont fight a drug test to get the help they need. I think the most of the people who are fighting the drug testing are the ones who are taking advantage of the system and have something to hide. I never aggreed with the bailout and their should have been strict stippulations but I can't change what the government has already done. As for College students, they are working toward a degree not sitting on their rear end asking for a hand out so I don't see how you could add them into the equation.


If I am asked to pee in a cup, without a warrant, because I am disabled, I will be calling the ACLU and getting a good Constitutional Lawyer!


I completely disagree. It is not considered unconstitutional to be drug tested by an employer to continue being employed so how is it unconstitutional to be drug tested by the Board of Social Services or Social Security in order to continue receiving benefits.

Robert Woolford

I completely disagree. If it is not unconstitutional for an employer to drug test employees in order for them to keep their jobs then how is it unconstitutional for welfare recipients to be drug tested by the Board of Social Services or Social Security?


Really?? You think that this is a violation of a deadbeats civil rights? You people need to get a clue!

I work at least 40hrs a week and have done since I left school/college. I had to submit to a drug and alcohol test Prior to my employment and I'm subject to random drug and alcohol tests. If I have to comply with complete sobriety to stay gainfully employed then Yes you're Damn right these deadbeats/losers and welfare mum's that choose not to work should have to undergo the same scrutiny as I do.

I've paid into the system my entire life and if someone expects to get money, medical assistance and/or food stamps on my dime then you bet they should be tested . If they don't like it then get off your lazy behind and get a job otherwise stop complaining or don't apply for welfare, it's as simple as that people!

Noel Acton

I work 24/7 with kids in the inner-city and know what is happpening from a grass roots level. Very little of the welfare and social services a mom recieves trickles down to the kids. The majority of the money is spent to support the mom's live-in boyfriend, and to buy cigarette, alcohol, weed, and drugs. If society is paying to raise the children shouldn't the kids have a right to what society is paying for. The child's right have to come BEFORE that of the mother. Giving a drug addict a monthly check only keeps them addicted longer, and the kids' in an intolerable situation. Any sane mother would be willing to be drug tested when they realize it is protecting kids from being abused and neglected.


It has nothing to do with income. Executives where my husband works have to pee in a cup; at random and on demand. It has to do with where the money actually goes for which someone else worked hard! I have worked for a charity that helped anyone that needed it once a year. People would actually come in with alcohol on their breath and say things like "I am here to get my check, it's been a year, I want my check!" This was not government funded in any way it was purely a private charity. The system is broken; we need to build a dam against the flood of people who do not apply themselves to be a productive members of society. Drug testing is a good dam!


seriously our nation is supporting deadbeats. Test them all, if they fail the test they get nothing & can only test in 6 months.. No rehab! Watch cost go down!

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