Commentary

Drug testing “welfare” applicants turning out to be the giant waste that critics foresaw

This afternoon’s “must read”:

Drug testingThe results are in: North Carolina’s law to drug test Work First applicants is a costly and mean-spirited waste of time

By Mike Meno, ACLU-NC Communications Director

Early results of a new law that allows North Carolina to drug test people who apply for Work First, a program that provides temporary assistance to needy families, confirm what the ACLU-NC and others argued at the time of the bill’s passage: it is a wasteful and unnecessary government invasion of vulnerable people’s privacy.

The law was originally passed in 2013, over the veto of Gov. Pat McCrory, who called the measure “a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion” that “is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the state has spent about $5,500 to review 7,600 applicants between August and December. About 2 percent of the applicants were referred for a drug test, and of those, 21 people tested positive. That amounts to less than 0.3% of all applicants, according to the News & Observer. Put another way, North Carolina spent about $262 for each applicant it “caught” testing positive.

These numbers show once again that people seeking temporary assistance to support their families are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and that laws that single out and stigmatize vulnerable people with invasive and constitutionally suspect drug tests are nothing more than a mean-spirited waste of taxpayer dollars.

The people who benefit from Work First’s temporary cash assistance, job training, and support services – and therefor most at risk under this law – are primarily families. In about 62 percent of cases, Work First benefits go to children. Of the 21 cases that tested positive for drugs, 12 involve children. Those families will now receive reduced support, and need to pay $55 for a second test if they want to reapply.

It’s important to remember in these cases that drug tests are notoriously faulty, and that if individuals are in need of drug treatment, cutting off or reducing aid to their families usually does little to get them to the help that they need. Whether it’s student loans or Social Security, many people receive some type of government benefit, yet North Carolina singles out only these vulnerable families trying to make ends meet for this unnecessary and demeaning scrutiny.

North Carolina’s lawmakers should end this misguided and baseless targeting of Work First applicants and give them the same respect and privacy they would anyone else.

Commentary

Federal Court of Appeals strikes down Florida’s law mandating drug testing for public benefit recipients

When North Carolina lawmakers passed a law last year mandating drug testing of public benefit recipients modeled (at least in part) on a law in Florida, civil liberties and anti-poverty advocates told them it was a bad and unconstitutional idea.

Today those advocates are feeling some vindication as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1tth Circuit stuck down Florida’s law. This is from the New York Times story:

The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, ruled that the law, one of the strictest in the country, was an unreasonable search because Florida officials had failed to show a “substantial need” to test all people who applied for welfare benefits. Applicants were required to submit to urine tests, a measure that Mr. Scott said would protect children of welfare applicants by ensuring that their parents were not buying and using drugs.

“The state has not demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population,” the panel said in its unanimous decision, using an acronym for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

North Carolina’s law is not identical, but the same basic logic ought to apply: If we’re going to start doing forced bodily searches of welfare recipients, there’s no logical reason the state shouldn’t be able to mandate such tests for all recipients of public benefits — from college students to Social Security beneficiaries.

let’s hope this decision heralds th beginning of the end for such invasive and ill-conceived programs.

Uncategorized

New Year’s Eve brings two federal court rulings of note

While many prepared to ring in 2014, judges in two federal districts handed down decisions worth considering given the “hot-button” issues they address.

In Florida, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven struck down that state’s mandatory drug testing requirement for welfare applicants, finding that it violated the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches.

As noted here in the New York Times:

Florida passed the measure in 2011, and the case was being closely watched by several other states, including Georgia, which passed similar legislation in 2013 but found it dogged by legal challenges. State data in Florida also showed that the measure produced few results. Only 108 out of 4,086 people tested — 2.6 percent — were found to have been using narcotics. State records showed that the requirement cost more money to carry out than it saved.

North Carolina’s legislature passed a drug-testing bill last year that required drug testing of applicants who, based upon reasonable suspicion, may be abusing drugs.  Gov. Pat McCrory then vetoed that bill in August, only to be overridden by the General Assembly. The program has not been implemented though because of insufficient funding.

And in New York, U.S. District Judge William Skretny upheld New York’s expansion of bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, finding that most of New York’s recent gun reform law did not impermissibly burden the Second Amendment, particularly in light of evidence that the state introduced linking large-capacity magazines and assault weapons to more deaths.

As Nicole Flatow points out in this Think Progress post: 

The ruling is one of several to uphold new gun law reforms, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision District of Columbia v. Heller, which reiterated that that the right to bear arms is far from unlimited. In October, a California appeals court upheld that state’s ban on semi-automatic rifles, citing Heller‘s conclusion that ownership of “[d]angerous and unusual weapons” is not protected by the Constitution. And earlier that month, a federal judge refused to block Maryland’s new gun reform bill.