S.B. 594 Would Require Every Applicant for Work First Benefits to Submit to Suspicionless Drug Tests; Similar Provisions in Florida & Michigan Were Found to Be Unconstitutional & Overturned by Courts
April 23, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) today sharply criticized the North Carolina Senate's passage of S.B. 594, which would require low-income parents with children under 18 years old who apply for assistance under the state's Work First program to undergo a mandatory drug test before receiving aid.
"Forcing people in need to pay up front for an invasive test without any suspicion of drug use would be cruel, costly, and blatantly unconstitutional," said Sarah Preston, ACLU-NC Policy Director. "All available evidence shows that North Carolina would lose more money than it would save under this proposal, since public aid recipients are less likely to use drugs than the general population and the vast majority would have to be reimbursed for their tests. If a citizen truly has a substance abuse problem and needs help, the state should help to get that person into treatment – not simply kick them and their children off of crucial support services. Current law allows the state to make drug treatment a condition to receive Work First benefits, but it does not deny much-needed assistance to low-income individuals and their family members, as this bill would so cruelly do."
S.B. 594 requires Work First recipients to pay for the cost of the drug tests up front and the state to reimburse them once they pass. A legislative staff attorney confirmed at an April 9 Senate hearing that multiple tests would be needed to screen for all illegal substances, and the combined cost could easily exceed $100 per person. More than 21,000 people are enrolled in North Carolina's Work First program, meaning the state could be liable for at least $2.1 million in reimbursements.
Similar proposals to require public aid recipients to submit to mandatory, suspicionless drug tests have been found unconstitutional invasions of privacy by federal courts in Michigan in 2009 and Florida in 2011. In the four months that Florida's law was in place, only 2.6 percent of more than 4,000 applicants tested positive for illegal drugs – a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of Floridians who use illegal drugs according to a federal estimate. As a result, Florida ended up paying more than $118,000 to reimburse applicants who passed the test, costing the government more than $45,000 more than the amount of aid that would have been given to people who failed their drug tests.
Drug testing aid recipients as a precondition for assistance is opposed by a wide array of public health organizations, including the American Public Health Association; National Association of Social Workers, Inc.; National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors; Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs; National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc.; National Advocates for Pregnant Women; Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
Read more about this issue at https://www.aclu.org/drug-law-reform/drug-testing-public-assistance-recipients-condition-eligibility