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Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

During his election campaign last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) campaigned on, among other things, cutting government spending by reducing the welfare rolls through drug testing. Welfare recipients were more likely than average citizens to be drug users, he claimed.

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/drugtest.jpg
drug testing paraphernalia
Scott successfully pushed his welfare drug testing bill through the legislature, and the program went into effect July 1. But preliminary results undercut his claims of high drug use rates among people seeking welfare benefits and they suggest that the vaunted savings to taxpayers will not be very significant.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the state Department of Children and Families is reporting some preliminary numbers. So far, at least 1,000 applicants have undergone drug testing, and only 2% have failed their drug tests. Another 2% have, for reasons unknown, failed to complete the application process.

These numbers suggest that not only are Florida welfare recipients not a bunch of lazy junkies getting high on the backs of taxpayers, but that they actually use drugs at a significantly lower rate than the population as a whole. [Ed: Drug testing proponents might argue that the program is causing applicants to stop using drugs in order to quality for benefits. But that ideas squares neither with the "addict" characterization commonly made about welfare recipients nor the weeks that marijuana remains detectable in the bloodstream after its last use.]

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7% of the population nationally over age 12 used an illicit drug in the previous month. The rate was 6.3% for those ages 26 and up. The 2006 national survey disaggregated usage rates by state and found a figure of 7.69% of people 12 and over using within the past month in Florida.

The ACLU of Florida, which is studying a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless, suspicionless mandatory drug tests, told the Tampa Tribune the Florida law is based on stereotypes of poor people.

"This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points," said ACLU of Florida spokesman Dan Newton. "We're not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we're not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It's obvious -- because they're poor."

These initial numbers also suggest that the welfare drug testing program will not be a big money saver for the state. Under the law, while welfare applicants and recipients must pay for the drug tests out of their own pockets, the state must reimburse those who test negative. At an estimated $30 a pop for the drug tests, that creates significant expenditures for the state.

Those expenditures are canceled out by the savings the state makes by not making welfare payments to those who test positive. If the current 2% positive test result rate holds true, the Tampa Tribune calculates, the state could save somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

But that's a drop in the bucket in a program that is predicted to cost $178 million this year, and it doesn't include staff costs and other resources the state has expended to implement the program -- nor the cost if even one person testing positive ends up in an emergency room or courtroom as a result. And even the small savings projected by the Tribune could be wiped out by the cost of defending what is likely to be found an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Florida welfare applicants and recipients to be free of unwarranted searches.

FL
United States

Alabama Bill Would Drug Test Medicaid Recipients

Lawmakers in Alabama are pushing the envelope on the drug testing of people who receive public benefits. While legislators in a number of states have targeted welfare or unemployment recipients for drug testing, a bill in Montgomery would require drug testing of Medicaid recipients.

Poor Alabamians who use drugs would be ineligible for Medicaid under a proposed law. (image via Wikimedia)
Distinct from Medicare, the federal program aimed at senior citizens, Medicaid is run by the individual states and is designed to make health care accessible for low-income people who are blind or disabled. It also covers low-income pregnant women, children, seniors, and people residing in nursing homes.

Pre-filed by state Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), Senate Bill 26, also known as the Patient Accountability and Personal Responsibility Act, would require that Medicaid recipients undergo random suspicionless drug tests at least once each year and that new applicants undergo a drug test before deemed eligible for Medicaid benefits. The cost of the drug tests would be added to recipients' premiums (e.g. poor people will have to pay for the drug tests).

People who fail to take a drug test or test positive would be denied Medicaid benefits. There is no provision for treatment, but those who are thrown off the rolls could be reinstated if they pass another drug test a year later. The drug test results could  not be used in any criminal proceedings "without the consent of the person tested."

The bill would not apply to nursing home residents, prisoners, people in mental hospitals or those in other long-term care facilities.

Lawmakers favoring the bill claimed the number of illegal drug users getting state-funded health care has "skyrocketed" in recent years, with the cost estimated at "unknown millions." State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told WHNT News the proposed law would save taxpayer money while forcing accountability on Medicaid recipients.

"If you want to use drugs and you want the taxpayers to pick up the tab on your health care, if this bill passes, forget about it," said Senator Orr. "If I'm going to use illegal drugs that are going to hurt myself, why ask taxpayers to fund my medical care?"

Random suspicionless drug testing for welfare recipients and state employees have been struck down by various state and federal courts as violating the right to be free of unwarranted searches, although a new Florida welfare drug testing law has yet to be challenged. Lawmakers told WHNT News they thought the Alabama bill is more legally sound because it only deals with public health programs, and if the bill ever becomes law, they are likely to find out in the courts if their legal theory is correct.

SB 26 has passed a first reading and has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee.

Montgomery, AL
United States

National Poll Finds Support for Welfare Drug Testing

A Rasmussen poll released this week found majority support for automatic drug testing of new welfare applicants and lesser, but still high, levels of support for drug testing people already receiving welfare benefits.

The poll comes as a new law Florida law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients is about to be implemented. Missouri has also passed a law requiring the drug testing of welfare recipients if there is "reasonable suspicion" to suspect drug use.

Bills to drug test welfare recipients have become increasingly popular as states face tough economic times and seek ways to tighten their belts, even though it is not clear that the costs of drug testing tens or hundreds of thousands of people would be offset by the savings generated by throwing drug users off the dole.

Such bills are also constitutionally dubious. A 1999 Michigan law subjecting welfare recipients to suspicionless drug testing was thrown out by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 when the court found that it amounted to an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

But that doesn't stop politicians, and this Rasmussen poll suggests why legislators find supporting drug testing such an enticing position.

The national telephone survey of likely voters found that 53% believe all welfare applicants should be drug tested before receiving benefits.  Another 13% only supported random drug testing, while 29% said welfare applicants should only be tested if there was a reasonable suspicion they were using drugs.

That is a whopping 95% who said they thought welfare applicants should be drug tested either routinely, randomly, or upon suspicion. That high number may be an artifact of the poll design; the poll questions only gave those three options when respondents were asked about whether welfare applicants should be drug tested. Rasmussen polling is also reputed to tilt in the conservative direction, which could also skew the findings. But with such a high number, the the general meaning of the results seems clear.

Respondents were more divided when it comes to testing people who are already receiving benefits. Some 35% said recipients should be tested only where there is reasonable suspicion, 31% supported random drug tests, and 29% said all recipients should be regularly tested.

If welfare recipients are found to be using illegal drugs, 70% of respondents said they should lose their benefits. Only 15% said they opposed taking away benefits, while another 15% were undecided. Of those who said benefits should be ended, 58% said it should happen for a first offense, while 40% said there should be one or more warnings before cutting benefits.  [Ed: Much depends on how a question is asked. A poll question commissioned by this organization in 2007 which mentioned "recovery" and "families" found nearly 67% of likely voters opposed to revoking benefits.]

It looks like advocates of welfare rights and civil liberties will have to fight a massive public education battle to turn public opinion around on this issue affecting the lives of some of society's most vulnerable and least able to speak up for their own rights.

Mississippi Tea Partiers Push Welfare Drug Testing Initiative

Mississippi Tea Party groups are busily collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would require welfare recipients and state employees to undergo drug testing. The measure, officially known as Ballot Initiative #33, is part of a broader push by Mississippi Tea Partiers against "un-Constitutional welfare programs" and illegal immigration. The initiative would also require anyone receiving state benefits to prove his or her US citizenship.

(image via wikimedia.org)
While the umbrella Mississippi Tea Party is playing a role in supporting the initiative campaign, most of the energy behind it appears to be based in the Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project, an influential South Mississippi Tea Party group affiliated with conservative former Fox News program host Glenn Beck's national 912 Project.

The Mississippi Tea Party sent a December letter to legislators demanding that they take action to drug test welfare recipients, act against illegal immigrants, reactivate the legislature's un-American activities panel, and nullify a number of federal programs under the rubric of state sovereignty, among other proposals. When the legislature failed to pass welfare drug testing, Ballot Initiative #33 was the result.

"Initiative #33 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to require that persons receiving public assistance, as well as state contractors, subcontractors, and state employees, must undergo random drug testing," says the initiative's official summary. "Failing two drug tests results in loss of benefits. Persons not currently receiving public assistance must pass drug testing before receiving benefits. This initiative also requires that persons residing in the state illegally are prohibited from receiving public assistance or state salary of any kind."

The initiative, a proposed constitutional amendment, is broader than the failed bill it substitutes for. It also includes state contractors, subcontractors, and employees.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast 912 Project needs to collect 90,000 valid voter signatures by mid-October, which is the deadline for getting the initiative on the 2012 ballot. If organizers can't gather 90,000 signatures by mid-October, but can get over the top by the next deadline, mid-December, they could qualify it for the 2012 ballot.

The random, suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was thrown out by a federal appeals court as unconstitutional -- a violation of the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches -- when Michigan tried it a decade ago. Another such program went into effect July 1 in Florida, and will face a similar constitutional challenge. If Initiative #33 is ever enacted, Mississippi taxpayers will be the next to have to defend an already invalidated program.

MS
United States

CHA Drops Plan to Drug Test Public Housing Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has dropped its proposal to require all adults living in its properties to undergo random drug tests. Tenants who tested positive under the plan would have been evicted.

There will be no drug testing of residents at Lake Parc Place or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The CHA also said Tuesday it would keep the "innocent tenant defense" that the proposal had also targeted. That allows tenants who face eviction because a household member or relative committed a drug offense or other crime to appeal against eviction on the grounds they were not aware of the offense.

The reversal comes after weeks of criticism from residents, activists, and the ACLU of Illinois. The man who sought to implement the proposal, CHA CEO Lewis Jordan, has resigned as well.

"The CHA received a tremendous amount of feedback during the public comment period, and simply, the result of that is that CHA will not move forward," CHA spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The decision was "welcome news," said ACLU of Illinois senior staff counsel Adam Schwartz. "There is no evidence that individuals who rent CHA apartments are more likely to use drugs than residents in other rental properties throughout the City of Chicago. Singling out these individuals simply is unnecessary and a diversion of precious resources," Schwartz said. "We applaud the Board for listening to the voices of the residents and dropping this harmful proposal."

The CHA Central Advisory Council, consisting of CHA tenant leaders, also applauded the agency's change of course. "CHA made a wise decision. There were just too many issues associated with drug testing," said Robert Whitfield, Central Advisory Council attorney.

Chicago, IL
United States

No Job Protection for WA Medical Marijuana Patients, Court Rules

Employers in Washington state can fire employees who fail a drug test, even if they have a valid recommendation to use medical marijuana, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The ruling came in the case of a Bremerton woman who was fired from her job after testing positive for pot, although she had a recommendation to use marijuana for migraine headaches.

Taking prescribed Adderall, Oxycontin, or Vicodin? No problem. But medical marijuana can get you fired. (Image via Wikimedia.org
In the case, Jane Roe v. TeleTech Customer Care Management, the anonymous plaintiff was pulled out of a training class and fired in October 2006 because she failed a pre-employment drug test. Her attorney argued that the Washington state medical marijuana law implicitly required employers to accommodate medical marijuana use outside the workplace.

But in an 8-1 decision, the state Supreme Court disagreed. The majority noted that the state law explicitly allows employers to forbid on-the-job medical marijuana use, but says nothing about medical marijuana use outside the workplace.

"We hold that [the Washington Medical Use of Marijuana Act] does not provide a private cause of action for discharge of an employee who uses medical marijuana, either expressly or impliedly, nor does MUMA create a clear public policy that would support a claim for wrongful discharge in violation of such a policy," wrote Justice Charles Wiggins for the majority.

But in his dissent, Justice Tom Roberts noted that under the medical marijuana law, qualified patients "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions." Roberts added that, "Roe seems to be exactly the sort of person the people intended to protect... Neither I nor the law would require employers to employ drug impaired workers. The law is intended to treat marijuana like any other medication."

If the state high court will not protect the rights of Roe, Roberts wrote, the legislature should step up and do so. "To that end, I urge the legislature to thoughtfully review and improve the act."

But that's no easy process. In California, which has seen a similar state court ruling gutting the employment rights of medical marijuana users, a legislative effort to provide a fix died in Sacramento last week.

Olympia, WA
United States

CHA Gets Angry Earful Over Drug Testing Proposal

As we reported last week, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has proposed requiring all adults living in public housing -- including senior citizens -- to take a drug test. If the person failed the drug test, he or she would be evicted. It also proposed evicting any resident whose family members gets arrested on drug charges.

Lake Parc Place residents let CHA CEO Lewis Jordan know what they thought of his bright idea. (Image courtesy CHA)
The CHA held a public hearing Thursday night, and if the response was an indication, that trial balloon is going over like a lead balloon. While one speaker supported the plan, the rest lashed out at the CHA and its new CEO, Lewis Jordan, the man who crafted the proposal.

"We all want a safe, healthy and drug-free environment, but the reality is we don't live in a drug-free world, a drug-free Chicago, a drug-free Illinois," said Darlene Hale, a CHA resident, in remarks reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. "How in the world can you demand that poor people be subjected to rules and regulations that is going to put them on the street and create more homeless people?" she asked.

Renaud Tatum, an 11-year resident at Lake Parc Place, said he was "highly offended" when he read about drug testing aimed at the poor. "I challenge Mr. Jordan to hire a third-party consulting firm to do scientific research to substantiate a correlation between low-income people having a higher use of drugs then people with higher incomes," he said.

Audrey Motes, a Lake Parc Place resident, told CHA officials she faces eviction because her adult son, who doesn't live with her, was arrested on a drug offense. She pleaded with Jordan to be able to stay.

"I'm not the one who did anything wrong," she said. "He is a 28-year-old man, and I raised him to do better. "I was at work just like I am now and he was out here getting into trouble. Why should that affect me? I don't feel that is right."

But Jordan wants to remove language that says the "resident may raise a defense that the resident did not know, nor should have known, of said criminal activity."

"Removing the innocent tenant defense from the lease agreement will, in my opinion, do nothing to reduce crime at public housing developments," said Lawrence Wood, an attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation for Metropolitan Chicago. "All it will do is ensure that innocent people are evicted for crimes that they did not foresee and that they could do nothing to prevent."

Under the current language, Motes can stay -- if she bars her son from coming to see her.

"If I agree to be on probation for six months and bar him from visiting the building, then I can keep my apartment," she said. "But I am going to fight it to the end. They are destroying these people's families. You've got to put your child out and bar them from the building. They are breaking up people's families. It's just ridiculous."

"These policies are wrong and should not be applied to our people." Alderman Pat Dowell told Jordan.

As the public hearing ended, Jordan tried to be conciliatory. He had broached the ideas after hearing from frightened residents, he said.

"Because of the drug environment, sometimes they feel very unsafe," Jordan said. "We're just trying to find a balance and again I just want to stress the fact that we're here to listen and a final decision hasn't been made."

We will shortly find out whether Jordan actually did listen to CHA residents. If he did, he will drop the proposals in short order.

Chicago, IL
United States

Chicago Housing Authority Wants to Drug Test Residents

The Chicago Housing Authority wants to require all current and future adult residents -- including senior citizens -- to pass a drug test. A positive drug test would result in an eviction notice for the resident.

The CHA wants you to pass a drug test if you live in the Kenmore or any other CHA properties. (Image courtesy CHA)
The proposal is one of several changes to the CHA's Admission and Continued Occupancy Policy submitted by CEO Lewis Jordan. Jordan and other agency officials argue they need more tools to fight crime and drugs in the housing projects.

The American Civil Liberties Union accused the CHA of subjecting the poor to a double standard, while resident leaders said the proposal was humiliating.

"The ACLU opposes drug testing in the absence of suspicion as a condition of residency in public housing," senior lawyer Adam Schwartz told the Chicago Sun-Times. "From our perspective, drug testing without suspicion is humiliating. It's stigmatizing. There's a double standard here," he said. "All across our city and our country, when most of us who are in whatever income bracket rent housing, we don't have to take a drug test. This is an emerging one standard for poor people and another standard for everyone else."

"Singling us out for this type of humiliation is a slap in the face of what this whole 'Plan for Transformation' supposedly is about," Myra King, chair of the central advisory council of tenant leaders for all CHA housing in the city, told the Sun-Times. "CHA says they're doing this plan to make us privy to the same standards as any other citizen in any other community. If that's true, why are we the only citizens to be drug tested?"

Lewis's "Plan for Transformation" also includes eliminating the "innocent tenant defense," which allows residents whose relatives or guests committed a drug offense or crime of violence to avoid eviction if they can show they were unaware of the activity. In a 2002 case, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing authorities could evict innocent tenants, but they are not required to. Former CHA head Terry Peterson had reached an agreement with tenants that allowed the continued use of the defense if it could be proved in court.

Spokeswoman Kellie O'Connell-Miller defended the proposals, pointing out that several CHA mixed-income properties currently require drug testing. "These are policies to help strengthen and improve the safety of our public housing communities," O'Connell-Miller said. "We're constantly hearing from law-abiding residents that they want us to hold the non-law abiding residents more accountable. We're trying to tighten up our lease with some of these issues. Drug dealers won't come where there are no buyers. If you remove the folks who are interested in drugs, hopefully it will remove some of the problems," she said.

Making the policy system wide would apply it to some 16,000 families living in family and senior public housing. The CHA has not estimated the cost of the proposal, O'Connell-Miller said.

The proposals are open to public comment through June 16, with a public hearing set for Thursday. If the proposal is adopted, it must then be approved by the CHA Board and then the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

And then the CHA can spend good money fighting (and most likely losing), the inevitable legal challenges. The precedent here is the state of Michigan's 1990s law mandating the suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients. It was rejected by the federal courts in 2003 for violating Fourth Amendment proscriptions against unreasonable search and seizure.

Chicago, IL
United States

Florida Welfare Drug Testing Bill Signed Into Law

Florida welfare applicants and recipients, mostly women with children, will now have to undergo drug tests at their own expense to receive cash benefits after Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a drug testing bill, HB 353, that passed the state legislature earlier this month. Scott also signed HB 1039, a law banning "bath salts," or new synthetic stimulant drugs.

Gov. Rick Scott (R) scores political points on the backs of the poor. (Image courtesy state of Florida)
More than 21,000 Floridians receiving benefits as heads of households will have to pay for and take the drug tests, as well as any new applicants. If they pass the drug test, they will be reimbursed for the cost. If they fail the drug test, they become ineligible to receive benefits for one year or until successfully completing drug treatment. Children of heads of household who test positive would still be eligible to receive benefits through a designated third party.

Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature argued that the law is necessary to stop welfare recipients from using the money to buy drugs. But opponents cited studies demonstrating that drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than among the general public.

"While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," Scott said in a press release. "This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars."

The ACLU of Florida was quick to attack the new law. It noted that the only other state law mandating suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients -- one in Michigan -- was overturned by the federal courts in 2003 for violating the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unwarranted searches and seizures.

"Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals," said ACLU of Florida head Howard Simon in a statement Tuesday. "The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse."

Citing the Michigan decision, Simon continued: "Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the state's own earlier experimental drug-testing program," he said. "Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida's poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution. Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law."

Wednesday the ACLU of Florida announced it was filing suit against the governor over an executive order he issued earlier this year requiring suspicionless drug testing of state employees. At the same time, it promises an announcement soon about how it plans to respond to the welfare drug testing law. 

Tallahassee, FL
United States

Missouri Welfare Drug Test Bill Heads for Governor's Desk

A Missouri bill that mandates the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants if case workers have "reasonable suspicion" they are using illegal drugs has passed out of the legislature and is now headed for the governor's desk. It passed the House Tuesday on a vote of 113-34. It had passed the Senate last month.

If you're on welfare in Missouri and the state suspects you use drugs, you will have to provide this. (Image via Wikimedia.org)
The bill, House Bill 73, also known as the "TANF Child Protection and Drug Free Home Act," requires Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) case managers to report to the Children's Division if an applicant or recipient tested positive or refused to take a drug test related to employment or employment training. Caseworkers would also have to report to the division if they have "reasonable suspicion to believe that such individual is engaging in illegal use of a controlled substance."

Failure to take or pass a drug test would make the recipient ineligible for TANF benefits for two years. But people who fail the test could enroll in a drug treatment program, and benefits would continue during treatment. If the person completes treatment and doesn't test positive, the benefits would continue. A second positive drug test would make the person ineligible for benefits for two years, with no provision for a treatment escape clause. Family members of someone declared ineligible because of drug use could continue to receive benefits through a third-party payee.

Foes of the bill argued that the bill was possibly unconstitutional -- although its use of a "reasonable suspicion" standard may make that argument more difficult -- that the program will be costly, and that it's an attack on society's most vulnerable.

The bill "targets low-income individuals, particularly women with children, said Pat Dougherty of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "We have women who come to our program and who are successful, who are getting their lives back together, who are trying to get straight, and yet, you've got a penalty there," he told KMOX News Radio last month.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis County) said she was concerned about the costs connected with the drug tests. Legislative analysts in Missouri estimated the program would cost up to $2.3 million.

"In Florida, they did about 9,000 tests and spent more than $3 million, while only 36 people were convicted," Chapelle-Nadal said.

But now, the Show Me State's Republicans get to look tough if not necessarily fiscally smart.

Columbia, MO
United States

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