Archive for the ‘welfare’ category

Court Upholds Temporary Ban on Florida Welfare Drug Testing

February 26th, 2013

Earlier today, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that temporarily halted the enforcement of a Florida law requiring that all welfare recipients be drug testedUrine Sample in order to receive benefits.

We have addressed this issue in the past on this blog, and it is good to see the 11th Circuit supporting the lower court’s decision. Drug testing in this fashion is an invasion of privacy, and in most cases ends up costing the taxpayers far more than is saved by denying benefits to the very few people who test positive.

First the States, Now Congress OKs Drug-Testing for Unemployment Benefits

February 29th, 2012

By Kellen Russoniello, student, George Washington University Law Center and NORML legal intern

As several states are considering or implementing policies that require recipients of government benefits such as welfare to undergo drug tests, the federal government has shown approval for the same flawed rationale. Last week, President Obama signed into law an agreement reached by Congress which maintains the payroll tax cut and extends unemployment benefits, but also allows states to drug test people who seek unemployment benefits if they were fired from their previous job for using drugs or if they are seeking a job that would ordinarily require drug tests.

The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, H.R. 3630, was signed on February 22, 2012. Section 2105 amends the Social Security Act by allowing states to drug test applicants for unemployment benefits and deny those benefits in the case of a positive result.

What percentage of those applying would be forced to pee in a cup? Although the numbers are unclear, Republicans had cited a study claiming 84% of employers required new hires to pass a drug test. Initially, Republicans had pushed for drug testing all applicants, but this was opposed by Democrats. In order to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment, however, Democrats caved on the issue of drug testing.

A columnist for Time pointed out several flaws in this policy. First, a single failure of a drug test does not treat addiction or even determine if treatment is necessary. In fact, because marijuana can stay in the body’s system for extended periods of time, drug tests are likely to disqualify cannabis users even though it is one of the least addictive drugs. Second, people may shift their use to other drugs, such as K2 or Spice, which are more difficult to detect in a urine screen but may be more detrimental to the person’s health. Third, creating obstacles for the unemployed to get back on their feet may actually worsen drug use, as it fosters anger and resentment.

Further arguments against this policy include that although the government estimates drug use among unemployed to be about twice that of the employed population, the rates of drug use among those applying for welfare benefits were found to be equal to the general population in Michigan when it tried to implement a drug test law, and much less than the general population in Florida. Not to mention, this type of policy is most likely unconstitutional.

Hopefully states will come to their senses and not opt to implement this policy. If your state is one of the 23 states considering mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits, contact your legislators and tell them to oppose these unsound and unconstitutional policies.

Florida’s Drug-Testing of the Poor Proves a Failure, but Some States Still Want to Follow their Example

February 18th, 2012

By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law student and NORML Legal Intern

The recent push for implementing drug testing for potential welfare recipients across several states has revealed at least two things: 1. The policy is not economically sound; and 2. It really brings out the hypocrisy in some elected officials.

Last summer, Florida implemented a law requiring all welfare applicants to submit to a mandatory drug test before receiving any benefits (Applicants had to pay the $30 for the test themselves, only to be reimbursed later if they passed. For more information, see this NORML blog post.). Not surprisingly, the program was brought to a quick halt. Back in October of 2011, a federal judge ruled that the Florida drug testing law was unconstitutional.

Further, in the few months that the program was up and running, it was shown that only 2% of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs. About 9% of the general population reports using drugs in the past month. So much for Governor Rick Scott’s theory that the poor use drugs more often than the rest of the populace.

Even more striking is the amount of money that Florida lost from this poorly designed policy. The Tampa Bay Online estimated that $3,400 to $8,200 in savings would be recognized every month from drug testing welfare applicants. As it turns out, the program is estimated to have cost Florida over $200,000. From any perspective, this policy can be regarded as a failure.

Despite the lessons that can be learned from Florida’s debacle, several states are still considering implementing programs to subject their impoverished population to drug tests. The Huffington Post reported that twelve states attempted passing legislation in 2011 that would require drug tests for welfare applicants. Florida, Missouri, and Arizona were the only three that succeeded. However, Pennsylvania has just begun a pilot program in Schuylkill County that subjects certain applicants to drug tests. By tailoring their laws to apply only to applicants that have aroused reasonable suspicion, these states are hoping to avoid constitutional problems like those that ultimately invalidated the Florida law and a similar Michigan law in 2000 (which was affirmed in 2003). Several states have also tried to drug test those who seek unemployment benefits, state employees, and private sector employees, including the passage of an Indiana law that requires drug testing for those in a state job-training program.

When pressed, legislators that support this policy try to justify their position by claiming that the taxpayers should not subsidize drug addiction. But taxpayers pay for much more than just welfare. Some of their money goes towards paying their legislators’ salaries. Wouldn’t this same rationale justify drug testing legislators? This has been the tactic of many Democratic state legislators to thwart Republican efforts to test welfare applicants. In fact, a Republican State representative in the Indiana General Assembly recently pulled a bill after another representative amended it to include drug testing for legislators. The bill was reintroduced and passed by the Indiana General Assembly the following week, which included a section requiring legislators to submit to random drug tests. Missouri and Tennessee currently have bills that would require legislators to submit to drug tests. These were introduced in reaction to a slew of bills aimed at requiring drug tests on different areas of the population. It seems that the legislators who want to drug test the poor aren’t really convinced of the merits of the program when applied to themselves.

Hopefully, state politicians will come to their senses as knowledge about the failure of Florida’s policy becomes more well-known. But given this country’s track record on drug policy, I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.

To see a hilarious summary of Florida’s drug-test-the-poor policy, watch this Daily Show clip, which includes Florida State Representative Scott Plakon’s and Governor Rick Scott’s reactions to being asked to take a drug test.

Reader Feedback On Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

December 28th, 2011

Last month, we asked you for your take on laws that require welfare recipients to take and pass a drug test in order to receive benefits. It was a hot topic, generating more comments than any blog posting since the U.S. attorney crackdown in California. We also set up a survey, which over 700 of you responded to.

So, what were the results? The vast majority of you, about 74%, were opposed to drug testing aid recipients altogether. The rest of you split roughly evenly between support for testing recipients for all drugs and support for testing for “hard drugs,” but not marijuana. The survey results skewed along the same lines as the views of our commenters, most of whom were opposed to testing altogether. Here’s a sampling of some other thoughts from our commenters:

Commenter Justin wants to look past ideology and focus on results:

Of course we would all likely prefer people receiving government assistance not use that aid to purchase anything besides the bare essentials. And if there were any indication that drug testing prevents drug use I would fully endorse its use. But the reality is every indication points to drug testing as being a very poor deterrent to drug use, in other words it simply doesn’t work

Reader David says if you’re going to drug test, do it consistently and equally:

I think anybody who receives government money, this includes all politicians and elected officials, should be subjected to random drug screens. What’s fair is fair.

Many of you agreed with Patrick in singling out companies that conduct testing:

 … the real beneficiary of drug testing welfare recipients is the dirty drug testing industry who I personally would love to see destroyed … We all know that the drug testing industry lobbies hard to maintain marijuana prohibition as they have a vested interest in doing so.

Thanks to all of you for responding to the survey and to those of you who took extra time to leave your thoughts in the comments section. As an organization focused on optimizing policy with respect to marijuana, we agree with the overwhelming majority of our members that drug testing aid recipients is intrusive, ineffective, and wasteful, and we will continue advocating against bills that require testing as a condition for receiving benefits.

We welcome our supporters’ feedback on this and other issues. If you’d like to share your opinion, leave your comments here at the blog or contact us directly. We can’t do our work without you, so it’s important to us that we have your support. Thanks again!

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Federal Judge Blocks Florida’s New Welfare Drug Testing Law

October 25th, 2011
​A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked Florida's new law requiring welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven said it may violate the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.Judge Scriven ruled in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father of a four-year-old who sought welfare benefits while finishing his college education, but refused to take the drug test, reports the Associated Press.According to the judge, there is a "substantial likelihood" that plaintiff Luis W. Lebron will succeed in his challenge to the law based on the Fourth Amendment, which is supposed to protect Americans from being unfairly searched. Continue reading "Federal Judge Blocks Florida's New Welfare Drug Testing Law" >

ACLU Challenging Florida Drug Test Law For Welfare Recipients

September 7th, 2011
​The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says it is filing a lawsuit challenging a Florida law that requires new welfare recipients to pass a drug test.The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Orlando man, Luis Lebron, an ACLU spokesman told The Associated Press on Wednesday.The group said that Florida's drug testing law is unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment's constitutional protections against search and seizure.No further details of the ACLU lawsuit were immediately available.Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the welfare drug testing bill into law in July, saying it is "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction." Continue reading "ACLU Challenging Florida Drug Test Law For Welfare Recipients" >

Florida’s New Drug Testing Policy Hits Taxpayers Hard

August 24th, 2011
Photo: Val Does PoliticsDumb-ass alert: Florida Gov. Rick Scott said it is "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction" when he signed this bill in May. So why is it OK for them to subsidize politicians' stupidity?Welfare Drug Testing Program Costs $5 For Every $1 It SavesFlorida's dumb-ass new law which requires the drug testing of all families applying for welfare benefits kicked in on July 1. It forces already financially challenged public assistance applicants to front the cost of the drug test, then reimburses them only if they test negative.Florida Governor Rick Scott, who spends most of his time with head way up his ass, said it is "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction" when he signed this bill back in May, reported CNN. So why is it OK for them to subsidize politicians' stupidity?"It is the right thing for taxpayers," the deeply ​clueless governor said at the time. "We don't want to waste tax dollars." Continue reading "Florida's New Drug Testing Policy Hits Taxpayers Hard" >