New Drug Testing Targets the Poor

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Recently many states have been putting into law required drug tests to receive certain financial aids.  In this past year alone, at least 30 state legislators have considered bills that would require people to pass a drug test to become eligible to receive welfare benefits. Some states have even discussed going further and extending this mandatory drug testing to the collection of “unemployment, Medicaid and food stamps.”

At the federal level the act which was introduced is known as the Drug Free Families Act, if put into place this “would require all 50 states to drug test all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program applicants and recipients.” The Florida has already begun the drug testing administration and screening. Republican Gov. Rick Scott said “while there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida tax payers to subsidize drug addiction.”

In Florida, each applicant must pay for their own tests, but if they pass the cost of the drug test will be reimbursed. For those who do not pass the drug test, they will not be reimbursed.

Other states, which have introduced drug-testing requirements are Indiana and Missouri.  Indiana has begun requiring “drug tests for unemployed people participating in state sponsored job training programs. The law in Missouri states that “if there is reasonable suspicion that a TANF recipient is using illegal drugs, a drug test can be ordered-but the law offers no guidance as to what constitutes reasonable suspicion.”

Historically, Michigan was the only state to ever force TANF applicants to submit to drug tests. The policy was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003 after the American Civil Liberties Union successfully argued that it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.

The current ACLU Communications Director in Florida did claim that the new law is clearly unconstitutional because “without having individualized suspicion… the government cannot drug test, especially wide groups of people cased on other criteria” such as their economic status.”

Title: New Drug Tests Target the Poor
Publication: In These Times; August 24, 2011
Author: Rania Khalek

Student Researcher: Chelane Beavers, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Sheila Katz, Sonoma State University