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Drug Testing: Bills to Drug Test for Public Assistance Recipients Pop Up Again

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #616)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

A perennial favorite of drug warriors, bills that would require people receiving public benefits to submit to mandatory drug tests are being introduced in statehouses around the country again this year. In South Carolina, the focus is on people receiving unemployment benefits; in Kentucky, the focus is on people receiving any public assistance, including food stamps and state medical care. Meanwhile, in West Virginia, the author of last year's failed mandatory drug test bill for welfare recipients is back with a new, improved version. And in Florida, a similar drug testing bill is in the works.

Drug testing recipients of public assistance has a certain superficial appeal, especially to politicians willing to pander to culturally and fiscally conservative constituencies. But that appeal is usually found wanting in the face of questions about cost, practicality, and, most crucially, legality. Michigan is the only state to actually pass a law requiring mandatory drug testing to receive benefits, but that law was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court that held it violated the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

That did not stop legislators in at least six states from introducing bills last year, and at least four states have seen bills filed or pre-filed so far this year.

In South Carolina, Sen. David Thomas (R-Greenville) has introduced S 920, which could cut off unemployment benefits for people who test positive for illegal drugs. Under the bill, anyone currently receiving benefits must submit to a drug test. If the test is positive, the benefits are cut off until the applicant completes drug treatment. The applicant must agree to random drug testing, and if he fails a random drug test, he must undergo a second round of treatment. He also loses benefits for a year.

"My concern is as much for those who are addicted or misusing drugs as for the folks that are paying the bills," Thomas told the Associated Press. "Ultimately, I think the question needs to be asked, 'Should unemployment be provided for people with ongoing drug problems, because they're using that unemployment money to feed the habit?'"

About 150,000 South Carolinians are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Testing each of them could run into the millions of dollars, and providing treatment for some percentage of them could prove costly as well.

Thomas' bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. No hearings have been scheduled.

In Kentucky, the bill introduced by Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster), HB 120, is even more ambitious that the South Carolina bill. It would require anyone seeking public assistance via cash, food stamps or the state medical assistance program to be drug tested. Nearly 740,000 Kentuckians receive food stamps and 748,000 receive medical assistance.

Under Napier's bill, all recipients would face an initial drug test and a random drug test at some point over the next year and every year they are receiving assistance. Those who test positive for a Schedule I controlled substance or a prescription drug not prescribed to them would be ineligible for benefits. The bill contains no provision for drug treatment, nor any provisions financing a million or more drug tests.

In West Virginia, Delegate Craig Blair (R-Berkeley), whose controversial bill to drug test welfare recipients was killed last year, is touting a new version of the bill, and this time, he has the backing of the House Republican caucus, which made the bill part of its 15-point legislative agenda this week. The new bill has some new twists: it calls for random drug testing of West Virginia elected officials, it would make drug testing of welfare recipients random instead of mandatory, and it would only apply to new welfare applicants. Under the new bill, randomly selected applicants who test positive could receive welfare benefits for two months, but after that, they would have to test clean or be in a drug treatment program or risk losing their benefits.

We will be watching these and any similar bills filed at statehouses around the country. Stay tuned!

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Msgtvance (not verified)

Great, not only do we have poor people with addiction problems but now they will also starve to death so some ass can get himself elected. I f you think the poor are desprate now, just wait tll they are starving!!!!!

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 5:06pm Permalink
ambee9960 (not verified)

In reply to by working (not verified)

That is crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What about the kids who will STARVE! I've never seen a drug addict buy food before drugs

Thu, 04/07/2011 - 5:54pm Permalink
CountryPumpkin352 (not verified)

In reply to by Msgtvance (not verified)

If people weren't out waiting to get their next high or their next score... or even wasting all of their money on things that are not important then they would have money to provide for their families and they wouldn't have to starve. If you think that you cant live without the drugs then you shouldn't be receiving money to supply your habits.. If people starve then that is on their own accord not on anyone else.. And I refuse to feel sorry for people who have free will and the willingness to make those choices.

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 7:23pm Permalink
Jean Boyd (not verified)

This article speaks for itself. Sick. It actually makes me feel naseous. As this is the end of freedom in this country, I want to smoke marijuana. It might make me feel better about reallizing that there are a bunch of very sick individuals at the helm.

Fri, 01/15/2010 - 8:24pm Permalink
AAnonymous (not verified)

Once again some of the legislators around the country show us that they have no clue. The one good thing I saw in this article was the one from West Virginia that would require random testing of the state elected officials. I really wonder how many legislators in any state could pass one of them? I don't support drug testing without cause. I would like to see all states that have medical marijuana laws have a clause in them that prohibits the employer from using the urine drug test on medical marijuana patients and instead requires that they use an accurate test that shows whether a person was actually impaired at the time of the test instead of having used marijuana in the past 30-60 days.

Sun, 01/17/2010 - 1:45am Permalink
Norma (not verified)

Oklahoma has introduced one too.HOUSE BILL 2532 By: Schwartz /Republican

I'm sure he is just grandstanding and that he has no idea of the fiscal impact of this bill.

Sometime in the late '90's there was a bill like this introduced here in Oklahoma. I simply called DHS and got the number of recipients mulitplied by $10.00(per test)
and handed that note to Rep. Laura Boyd while the bill was being heard on the floor. Her numbers killed it. So I'm sure in this day of critical funding issues we won't get it passed.

Sun, 01/17/2010 - 8:02am Permalink
goodneighbor420 (not verified)

someone on the internet's reply to testing welfare recipients.........

my pee is my pee
your pee is your pee

i don't want anything to do with your pee and you can't have any of mine, nor should you want any.....
it should be that way with everyone's pee
random urine test my ass...i do have a problem with anyone wanting my pee, my hair, my saliva, my blood
for cripes sakes, those are a few of the things that i can actually call my own, the bank doesn't own em and i'm not making payments on em
i believe in the right to privacy and all of my bodily secretions are pretty private, i can't even "go" in front of my mate
i believe in freedom of information and the right for the public to know what government is doing and as soon as congress and all of government subject themselves to all of the scrutiny that they subject everyone else to, AND DRUG TEST THEMSELVES, they can have my pee
if a congressman has to pee to get his check, fine, then i'll agree that a welfare recipient has to pee to get theirs or for that matter, a professional football, baseball, basketball player (also, as an aside, why don't congress members have to retire on social security like the rest of us?---i'll bet social security would be a livable amount if they did)
i don't think ANYONE should have to pee to get a paycheck until EVERYONE HAS TO-INCLUDING THE PRESIDENT, CONGRESS, THE SENATE, YOUR LOCAL MAYOR, ETC can you imagine? and what exactly are these government people doing besides sitting on their butts? HMMM???? why don't you have a problem paying them to sit on their butts? can you imagine the money the state and lots of employers could save by not having to buy the little random drug test kits from the pharmaceutical companies that aren't even reliable


can you imagine the money it would save the taxpayers not having to fund the failed
"War On Drugs" which is also known as PROHIBITION (it didn't work the first time, and probably won't work this time)

if you would like to save the taxpayers some money, why don't ya promote legalizing and taxing drugs like marijuana? no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose....lots of people have died from alcohol overdose, yet no one thinks a thing about going to a pub and having a pint or two

just my opinion....
but, who am i?......joe (or mary) public, you know, the guy(or gal)
no one in congress listens to-----

gosh i get tired of ignorance

but, there's no vaccination for it and obviously no cure

Sun, 01/17/2010 - 11:12am Permalink
Anonymous1 (not verified)

Like most folks in this country, I have a job. I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit. In order to get that paycheck in my case, I am required to pass a random urine test (with which I have no problem) What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test.
So, here is my Question: Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them? Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their ass - doing drugs, while I work. . . Can you imagine how much money each state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check? Surely a drug test is less expensive than a welfare check. I also agree that public, elected officials should have to get tested as well, since they're the ones handing out MY money!
I guess we could title that program, 'Urine or You're Out'.

Wed, 03/10/2010 - 11:12am Permalink
MichaelVA (not verified)

I agree with pot heads. If you want to smoke then smoke. You should have that right to choose. Also be aware that your choices may cost you. If you wish to have your habit supported by tax payers then your a fool. I am totally in favor of helping others get on their feet, however I am totally against supporting drug addicts with their addictions with tax payer money. The cost of the drug tests should also not be a issue when taking into regard the amount of state and fed funds that will be saved or used to improve or create better jobs then so making money with the money saved, instead of throwing it away on someone who will not help their own well being.

Wed, 05/12/2010 - 2:04am Permalink
tellitHowItIs! (not verified)

I totally agree, you want free money to sit on your a** then pass a drug test just like anyone who has to pass a drug test to get the money they work hard for!!  You are a person of non worth if 1.) you think you are entitled to sit on your a** because you think this country owes you something, and if that's the case, not only are you a selfish, lazy, non educated person, but a worthless one who helps drag down the progress of this country.  2.) You do not want the pride of having the feeling of self worth to make your life or your children's lives better and give them a great roll model to look up to.  If those two apply then go to another county.  I hate lazy ignorant people....

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 2:29pm Permalink
Hillary (not verified)

In reply to by tellitHowItIs! (not verified)

I have news for you, you call people who get assistance lazy and uneducated. Well get this im in nursing school and honey it takes a very smart person to get into a program like that. Another thing sweetheart i work 40 hours a week so i am probobly on my feet a whole lot longer than you are in a day. I have three childre who are well taken care of by me and there father oh yes i said father. You probobly thought he wasn't around as close minded as you are. I get up at 6 am every morning and don't slow down untill about 11:30 at night. Mabye you shouldn't stereotype so much and mabye you need to get a little more educated than what you are before you just start spitting out words before knowing the facts. I get assistance for food an medical for my children because it is so hard for that to be taken care of in this economy and the type of job i work and no im not a stripper which would be your next close minded statment but i have news for you i basically get everything back that i pay out in taxes a month. I pay for my own benefits thank you. I dont like people like u who judge like you do. NOT EVERYBODY WHO GETS ASSISTANCE IS IGNORANT AND LAZY BUT YOU SURE ARE IGNORANT.

Thu, 02/17/2011 - 9:51pm Permalink
unknown1979 (not verified)

unknownI  am in the process of writing a paper at school and I chose the subject of random drug testing for government assistance since this subject gets under my skin. I could defiantly ramble on and on regarding the issue of lazy dope smokers that are taking all of my hard earned money and blowing it out the end of their pipe. I also like many others have to pass a random drug screen in order to have a job. I do not see how this could even remotely violate my constutional rights. I agreed that I would provide my employer with a random urine sample if requested and this was very much understood. I do not see that if requiring people on government assistance to do the same and they were in agreement, would violate their rights. If you don't' want to submit to such a test then obviously you have something to hide and guess what....DENIED BENEFITS! There are many honest hard working people in this world that are barley surviving and just keeping their heads above water. These people go to work every day, pass a drug screen if needed, and are denied benefits because they are considered to have too much income. What? This makes no sense to me. If anyone should be allowed benefits it is the ones who are actually working for a living and paying taxes on the money they earn that in turn pays for food stamps, welfare and other various programs. I could further this discussion by saying that if a random drug screen violates the rights of these lazy individuals, then start restricting how long they are able to draw such benefits. Make a limit, cut them off if they do not have a job within 1 year, something people! There has to be a solution to this unfair and unjust legal system that is allowing such BS to fly. I personally have known several people that have drawn welfare benefits, food stamps and medicaid for their entire life. I am talking like 18-20 years thus far and NEVER held a job! I just can't understand this sort of system. I really think something is wrong with this picture.

Wed, 11/17/2010 - 3:47pm Permalink
The Kid with D… (not verified)

I have had to have drug test to get a job, so why shouldn't someone have to get drug tested to be giving money. I don't feel that a country that is so in debt should pay for someones drug habit. Also with this testing hopefully the parents that do drugs will lose they're kids. Its not fair for those kids to suffer watching they're drug addict parent ruin they're life.

Mon, 01/17/2011 - 11:30pm Permalink
working (not verified)

Ok I agree with what they are doing or I should say trying to do. We have people on here saying that it is stupid and that the poor are going to go hungry ect..........  Well it is one of the smarter things that I have seen done by the Government yet. I as a working person have to have random drug testing. People in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines have to have it. Police officers, Emts, Fire Fighters ect..... all have to have it. But there are people that live on Welfare that should not have to. If at my place of employment  if i fail a drug test I get fired and I do not get a pay check. If your on welfare and unemployment and you fail you should loose your pay check too. If there is someone out there that is so bad off that they need help making it in there life to eat, have a place to live ect... I have not problem with them being on welfare. But if these same people are going out buying drugs and getting high then I do have a problem with that. If they can afford to buy drugs they can afford to pay for there stuff there self.  Not to mention that they said they will be tested for illegal drugs or drugs that are not prescribed to the person on welfare.  Now if this is what they are testing for and these people are testing positive for them, then this means that these people are breaking the law. I say anyone wants to do drugs pay for it yourself and stop wanting everyone else to pay so you can play. Grow up and take care of yourself. I really hope this gets passed in all states cause it might cost alot at 1st but in the end it will save alot more.

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 10:21am Permalink
kittie57 (not verified)

So glad that states are finally making a movement towards controlling this situation! I just wrote an essay about this topic last semester. I don't have a problem with someone using drugs; but, I don't approve of government money being handed to someone who could potentially support themselves if they weren't wasting what little money they do have on drugs or, can't manage to work due to their habit.

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 5:23pm Permalink
zoiella (not verified)

  I completely agree with this law being passed in every state. However my concern is the children of the users that fail or refuse to test. I think they should use their dope money to provide for their children, but with most addicts this does not even enter their mind. Not to mention the types of foods pot head parents buy for their children (themselves). Junk food, easy non-nutrition foods that do not require them to use the few brain cells left in their brain. Obesity is a big factor in this country. Ever consider all the reasonings? I think this would be one. I have know several parents who are pot heads, their children are either really obese or really under weight. Point being if assistance was to be denied, would the children suffer? Children are innocent and as much as I would love this law to pass, cant vote yes for fear the children will suffer.[ This law has already been passed in Oklahoma (my home state) in the 90's and failed (for some reason).]   

Sun, 01/30/2011 - 7:50pm Permalink
IraqVet (not verified)

My take on this topic is that I am a single mother of two, have been for years, I was in the military for 10 years and was subject to drug tests every other month or sometimes twice a month. If it not had been for others who abused drugs or only did so often, then I would not had so many tests. I am not saying I hated them, I was actually the one who gave the test to the soldiers. But my life was in their hands most of the time, of course I dont want someone who does drugs helping me with the machines or vehicles we use. Other words I support the testing of welfare applicants because I recieve food stamps, housing and anything else they are wanting to help me with. I live my life without drugs, without alcohol and still deserve to get the help I need. But we have those who want to live off of the state, continue to abuse drugs and paying for them when they need to be providing for their children.. This is all I have to say!

Wed, 03/30/2011 - 11:40am Permalink
Poverty Scientist (not verified)

The thing about this is that there are people on assistance that would rather be back at their tax paying productive positions in society, so lets think about putting yourself in those persons shoes instead of yours for one moment. I believe a large majority of these persons do not choose to be in this position, I don't believe all people are the same so lets be educated for a moment and leave the generalizations and stereotypes out of this just for a moment. They have been fired, discharged or let go from their former "real citizen-tax contributing positions for a number of reasons including things beyond their control. 

If your feeling down and smoke a joint (not inhaling of course) and then you relax a little and maybe it takes your mind off things for an hour or so and oh my god....... what kind of bad person would do that! Lets yank their kids milk out of the fridge and take away their meager food stamps and all their medical coverage. Great idea! You have directly taken their barely able to make it on government check and meager wait in line public health coverage and made them have to now get their meds off the street and steal food all but eliminating any possible chance to get back on their feet.

You have essentially forced them into further criminal activities and more pot smoking without inhaling to relieve increased poverty and stress along with forcing them to self medicate without physician involvement, they now seek their former meds on the street and employ drug dealers in turn. Perhaps they will be caught for these low life activities and put in jail then instead of a $800.00 or so government assistance or a whopping 200.00 bucks a month in food stamps (of course only for those completely screwed and homeless to even qualify) or oh my gosh the 300 buck a month they can borrow in exchange for their estate when they die in government assistant loans a month that they have to pay back, even in death.

Now they go to jail because of this and you now get to pay for their 50 K+ a year cast of housing an inmate in a state prison! Its a circle of stupidity that not many seem to understand. Their is a bigger picture here people, I give you all credit and know that you must be Americans and hope you have the open mindedness to look outside the box and think about this for real before jumping after a one liner opinion from someone who has never set foot in the shoes of poverty or had to hold their head low in the welfare line. You should try this out and see what it's like, perhaps even those who have a Bachelors of Science and get to beg for government assistance like you have to.

Its not over though folks, you also get to pay for their kids foster homes and further the parentless generation of children that as the survey says; more than likely wont ever have a chance, you'll get to pay their $50 K prison rent too for most of their lives. So think your going to save money, think again!

Sat, 03/24/2012 - 5:03am Permalink

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