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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.

News

Here’s the latest statement from advocates in response to this morning’s story about the remarkable crash in voter registrations at North Carolina public assistance offices since the beginning of the McCrory administration:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATES CALL ON NORTH CAROLINA TO TAKE ACTION AFTER VOTER REGISTRATIONS DROP SHARPLY AT STATE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE OFFICES

(Raleigh, NC) – Citing clear evidence that the state of North Carolina is failing its obligation to provide low-income residents with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies, today Democracy North Carolina, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (“APRI”) sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”), as well as Dr. Aldona Wos, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”).

According to the letter, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since Gov. Pat McCrory took office. The number of applications originating from such agencies fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the last two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The notice letter—sent on behalf of the voting rights groups by attorneys from D?mos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—gives the state 90 days to come into compliance with the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) or face litigation.

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The good folks at Think Progress published a story yesterday entitled “Your assumptions about welfare recipients are wrong.” It’s a myth-buster worth checking out as we contemplate the realities that confront so many of our fellow Americans — especially during the holiday season.

“The stereotype of the low-income people enrolled in government programs is that they spend the money on frivolities and are unwise with their budgets. But the data proves otherwise. Families who receive public benefits such as housing assistance, welfare cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security Income (SSI) for the disabled or low-income elderly have much smaller spending budgets than those who don’t receive benefits and spend a bigger portion on the basics such as food, housing, and transportation, according to an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On average, families who are enrolled in these public programs spend less than half of what families who aren’t enrolled spend. They also put a bigger percentage of that money toward food, housing, and transportation, devoting 77 percent of their budgets to these necessities compared to about 65 percent for other families. Meanwhile, they spend less, on average, on some things thought to be luxuries like eating out and entertainment. A family that doesn’t get public benefits spends 4.5 percent of its budget on ‘food away from home,’ while a two-parent family who gets benefits spends 4 percent of its budget on eating out and a single parent spends 3.6 percent. ‘Food away from home spending was higher in both dollar amount and percent of total spending among families not receiving assistance,’ the report notes. Families who don’t need assistance also spend more on entertainment in both dollar and percentage terms and devote more of their budgets to ‘other’ expenses.

Read the rest of the story by clicking here.

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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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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