On Tuesday, Tennessee became the latest impoverished red state to further humiliate the poor when they are forced to apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), by forcing them to undergo drug testing. Another state just has to see for itself that these programs are expensive and always cost more than they save.
The Tennessee law is not the most onerous version of this policy of humiliation. It requires all applicants who have never received assistance or who have not received it for at least a month to complete a three question questionnaire. If they answer yes to any of the questions they will be required to submit to a urine test. Only applicants over 18 are required to meet the requirement and dependent children are exempted. A minor who is a parent and is not a dependent of an adult will also have to submit the test. In a two parent household, only one parent will be required to submit.
If an applicant is referred for testing, the DHS will pay for the testing which will screen for marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and opiates, ignoring of course the most widely abused drug, alcohol. A positive test will not result in a denial of benefits, but the applicant will be referred for treatment and re-tested in six months. A second failure will mean disqualification for six months.
Tennessee and six other states which have passed these laws since the Florida law was struck down in 2013, have tried to avoid the mistakes of that law which was ruled un-Constitutional because it violated the applicants’ right to privacy. That attempt to save money also cost Florida $45,780 and found only 108 out of 4,086 applicants who failed mostly tested positive for marijuana, the most innocuous of illegal drugs.
Utah spent $30,000 from August of 2012 through July of 2013 testing welfare recipients for drugs and found a total of 12 people using illegal drugs, with Arizona catching one offender in three years of testing after implementing their law.
In Missouri where a testing law took effect in 2012, the state spent $500,000 in the first eight months to test 636 people (200 others forfeited benefits by refusing to be tested) out of a total of 32,000 applicants. The end result of all of that testing and expenditure was that 20 people tested positive for illegal drugs.
While there is no evidence that welfare recipients have a higher rate of illegal drug use than any other segment of society, legislators and governors of red states have become very enamored of them. At the federal level Republicans in Congress have unsuccessfully attempted to pass a federal requirement that recipients of welfare and unemployment undergo such testing several times.
What these laws really do (and what they are intended to do) is to further humiliate people at a low point in their lives, they are already humiliated that they cannot provide for themselves and their families. When they seek help, they are handed a cup and told to submit a sample to prove their innocence, basically being told that unlike a murderer they are not considered innocent until proven guilty.
h/t: Huffington Post