Mandatory drug testing of Work First applicants, recipients would be costly, ineffective, and likely illegal
New report finds universal drug testing could cost North Carolina as much as $2.3 million
RALEIGH (April 22, 2013) — North Carolina lawmakers are currently pursuing legislation that would require mandatory drug testing of all Work First applicants and recipients. Such actions would be costly, likely illegal, and ineffective at identifying and treating drug abuse, a new report finds.
North Carolina’s Work First program assists extremely low-income families in getting on the path to self-sufficiency. Suspicionless mandatory drug testing for Work First families, as proposed by Senate Bill 594, would place additional financial burdens on struggling families who receive assistance, not to mention the whole of North Carolina, according to a new report from the North Carolina Justice Center.
Research shows the proportion of welfare recipients with drug abuse problems is low, the report said, meaning that the state would have to reimburse the vast majority of applicants and recipients for the costs of their drug tests. In Florida, the one state that recently implemented testing of all applicants, only 2.6 percent of applicants failed the drug testing during the four months of the state’s mandatory drug testing program (the program was halted on constitutional grounds). Testing for drugs may run upwards of $100 for each applicant or participant, according to a non-partisan legislative attorney at the state General Assembly.
“The bill is fiscally and morally irresponsible,” said Sabine Schoenbach, a policy analyst with the NC Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project and co-author of the report. “Universal drug testing is an unfunded mandate that could cost the state as much as $2.3 million for the testing alone.”
Suspicionless drug testing of public assistance applicants and recipients likely violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure, the report said. Other states’ statutes that required testing without reasonable basis or suspicion have been deemed unconstitutional. When Michigan tried enacting a drug-testing program for welfare recipients in the early 2000s, a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional. In February 2013, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling to stop enforcement of Florida’s law requiring all applicants for TANF benefits to be tested.
Blanket testing has also been found to be an ineffective way to identify and address substance abuse, as it shifts the focus away from screening and services by replacing existing evaluation and treatment provisions with drug-testing mandates. North Carolina’s Work First program already screens for possible substance abuse, and if the applicant is found to be at risk, qualified professionals conduct a comprehensive assessment – a practice that has been shown to be a more effective model than universal testing.
“Suspicionless drug testing of public assistance recipients has been challenged on constitutional grounds around the country,” Schoenbach said. “Only a small fraction of public assistance recipients suffer from substance abuse and addiction. Funds would be better spent on treatment programs for these few individuals and on workforce development programs that can help public assistance recipients transition to self-sufficiency.”