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.

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ACLU responds to veto override of drug testing bill

ACLU-NC statement on override of drug testing bill veto
Civil liberties group says H.B. 392 does nothing to address substance abuse and will deter many families in need from seeking assistance 

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Senate today voted to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of H.B. 392, a bill that requires some applicants to the state’s Work First program for needy families to pay up front for and submit to drug tests as a precondition of aid. The state House voted to override the veto yesterday, meaning H.B. 392 will now become law.

In announcing his veto, Gov. McCrory called H.B. 392 “a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion … that is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC), which strongly opposed the bill and urged the legislature to sustain the governor’s veto, released the following statement:

“It’s very disappointing that the legislature put so much effort into passing this cruel and constitutionally suspect bill. Read more

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Advocates call for lawmakers to sustain veto of drug testing bill

Drug testingThe General Assembly returns to Raleigh on Tuesday to decide whether to override or sustain Governor McCrory’s veto of House Bill 392, the controversial and costly proposal to drug test public assistance recipients and applicants.

In announcing his veto of HB 392 on August 15th, the Governor said: “Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive and ineffective at catching drug abusers. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina.” Advocates for poor people agree. As argued last night in an email alert distributed by my colleague Jeff Shaw at the NC Justice Center:

  • HB 392 shifts the focus from treatment to testing. Research shows that differences in the proportion of public assistance and non-public assistance recipients using illegal drugs are statistically insignificant. However, for those Read more
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ACLU calls for G.A. to sustain drug testing veto

The ACLU of North Carolina sent a letter to its members and suporters today asking them to urge their state representatives and senators to uphold Gov. McCrory’s veto of controversial drug testing legislation. This is from the letter:

“In announcing his veto, Gov. McCrory called H.B. 392 ‘a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion … that is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.’ We agree.

H.B. 392 does nothing to rehabilitate people who test positive for drugs. But it would open the door to costly and unnecessary government intrusions into the physical privacy of North Carolinians who need public assistance to care for their families. It would also force people in need to pay up front for their urine test, likely deterring many families from even applying.

Our state and federal constitutions protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians against unreasonable searches, and all available evidence has shown that welfare applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public. Forcing North Carolinians who need public assistance to care for their families to pay up front for an invasive test without reasonable suspicion of drug use would be cruel, costly, and constitutionally suspect.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene next Tuesday September 3 to consider the veto.

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Applause for veto of mandatory drug testing bill

In case you missed it, civil rights groups have applauded the Governor’s decision to veto legislation that would have imposed a mandatory drug testing regimen on applicants for public assistance.

This is from the ACLU of NC:

“North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory today vetoed H.B. 392, a measure that would have required applicants to the state’s Work First program to submit to costly and invasive drug tests. Gov. McCrory called the measure ‘a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion’ that ‘is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.’

Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement:

‘We applaud the governor’s veto of a measure that would have opened the door to costly and unnecessary government intrusions into the physical privacy of North Carolinians who need public assistance to care for their families. Our state and federal constitutions protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians against unreasonable searches, and all available evidence has shown that welfare applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public. In fact, the evidence suggests that their rate of drug use is lower than that of the general public. Forcing people in need to pay up front for an invasive test without reasonable suspicion of drug use would have been cruel, costly, and constitutionally suspect. We are very pleased the governor has rejected this measure.’ Read more