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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) â Want government assistance? Just say no to drugs.

Lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients of food stamps, unemployment benefits or welfare to submit to random drug testing.

The effort comes as more Americans turn to these safety nets to ride out the recession. Poverty and civil liberties advocates fear the strategy could backfire, discouraging some people from seeking financial aid and making already desperate situations worse.

Those in favor of the drug tests say they are motivated out of a concern for their constituents’ health and ability to put themselves on more solid financial footing once the economy rebounds. But proponents concede they also want to send a message: you don’t get something for nothing.

“Nobody’s being forced into these assistance programs,” said Craig Blair, a Republican in the West Viginia Legislature who has created a Web site â â that bears a bobble-headed likeness of himself advocating this position. “If so many jobs require random drug tests these days, why not these benefits?”

Blair is proposing the most comprehensive measure in the country, as it would apply to anyone applying for food stamps, unemployment compensation or the federal programs usually known as “welfare”: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Women, Infants and Children.

Lawmakers in other states are offering similar, but more modest proposals.

On Wednesday, the Kansas House of Representatives approved a measure mandating drug testing for the 14,000 or so people getting cash assistance from the state, which now goes before the state senate. In February, the Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require drug testing as a condition of receiving TANF benefits, and similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and Hawaii. A Florida senator has proposed a bill linking unemployment compensation to drug testing, and a member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives has a bill requiring drug tests of people who get public assistance under a state program there.

A January attempt in the Arizona Senate to establish such a law failed.

In the past, such efforts have been stymied by legal and cost concerns, said Christine Nelson, a program manager with the National Conference of State Legislatures. But states’ bigger fiscal crises, and the surging demand for public assistance, could change that.

“It’s an example of where you could cut costs at the expense of a segment of society that’s least able to defend themselves,” said Frank Crabtree, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Drug testing is not the only restriction envisioned for people receiving public assistance: a bill in the Tennessee Legislature would cap lottery winnings for recipients at $600.

There seems to be no coordinated move around the country to push these bills, and similar proposals have arisen periodically since federal welfare reform in the 1990s. But the appearance of a cluster of such proposals in the midst of the recession shows lawmakers are newly engaged about who is getting public assistance.

Particularly troubling to some policy analysts is the drive to drug test people collecting unemployment insurance, whose numbers nationwide now exceed 5.4 million, the highest total on records dating back to 1967.

“It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to bring up during a recession,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “People who are unemployed, who have lost their job, that’s a sympathetic group. Americans are tuned into that, because they’re worried they’ll be next.”

Indeed, these proposals are coming at a time when more Americans find themselves in need of public assistance.

Although the number of TANF recipients has stayed relatively stable at 3.8 million in the last year, claims for unemployment benefits and food stamps have soared.

In December, more than 31.7 million Americans were receiving food stamp benefits, compared with 27.5 million the year before.

The link between public assistance and drug testing stems from the Congressional overhaul of welfare in the 1990s, which allowed states to implement drug testing as a condition of receiving help.

But a federal court struck down a Michigan law that would have allowed for “random, suspicionless” testing, saying it violated the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure, said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

At least six states â Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Virginia â tie eligibility for some public assistance to drug testing for convicted felons or parolees, according to the NCSL.

Nelson said programs that screen welfare applicants by assigning them to case workers for interviews have shown some success without the need for drug tests. These alternative measures offer treatment, but can also threaten future benefits if drug problems persist, she said.

They also cost less than the $400 or so needed for tests that can catch a sufficient range of illegal drugs, and rule out false positive results with a follow-up test, she said.

Archived comments

How about opening up some treatment for people as opposed to denying benefits.



3/26/2009 6:43:35 AM

so bp1, exactly who is the MORON, the people asking for drug testing or the one’s taking drugs?

I’ve always had to stay “clean” to keep my job, how unfair is it for those who don’t have a job to also stay away from the stuff and still get paid?

Take some personal accountability, remember just say NO. I shouldn’t have to pay your bills, your addiction AND your rehab.


3/26/2009 7:34:44 AM

The line to the left for cheese, the line to the right for urine……..

Tig is right- Government jobs (and many others) require random drug tests, so why not government subsidies?I just wonder how much more this will cost me.


3/26/2009 7:43:44 AM

So do you Not have to pay taxes that end up going to these programs if you fail a drug test?


3/26/2009 8:14:58 AM

“They also cost less than the $400”

is this per person cost?

How much is the average payout per recipient?


3/26/2009 8:24:58 AM

drug testing for unemployment recipients is an invasion of privacy. you can’t lump unemployment benefits in with welfare and food stamp programs; they are not the same at all. what’s next, drug testing old people for social security?


3/26/2009 8:30:28 AM

exactly who is the MORON, the people asking for drug testing or the one’s taking drugs?

The people not enjoying drugs.


3/26/2009 8:50:51 AM

Invasion of privacy?You don’t have to take the money.And why should people be spending unemployment on drugs?They should impliment this.How are these people supposed to get jobs if they can not pass a drug screening?


3/26/2009 9:36:08 AM

If you are poor then you are a criminal, period. Nomatter the reason/reasons as to why one is in a low income bracket. Just criminals treated accordingly.


3/26/2009 9:36:28 AM

It’s about time!Taxpayer’s should not be supporting welfare, drug user’s in any way.

And, the people turned down for welfare can go to work to pay for their own treatment program.


3/26/2009 9:48:37 AM

Drug testing should be illegal for welfare recipients and in the workplace.There are laws in place to combat drug abuse.It should not be up to employers to enforce the law.

For example, MJ has been decriminilized in the general public, yet it can cost you your job.This is a much more severe penalty than any fine.


3/26/2009 10:35:45 AM

Alcoholism and drug addiction are so-called disabilities which make one eligible for monthly SSDI/SSI benefits from Uncle Sugar. Most homeless drunks and dope fiends are on the dole already, using their monthly check to buy booze and drugs, and to rent a cheap motel room for a week or so of partying at taxpayer expense.

Take away their unemployment benefits, food stamps, and welfare payments — so they can then receive “disability” benefits for drinking and drugging? Is that the plan?

The stupidity of pandering politicians is often astounding!


3/26/2009 10:36:05 AM

I have never understood why the people who have to work and pay State and Federal taxes to support these programs have to take a drug and substance test, and the folks recieving the money these working people are putting up, don’t have to take the same tests…………

It’s a mystery to me, if you have to pee, they should have to pee…………………..

As far as Social Security goes that is not a welfare program, you are recieving your own money, if you live long enough, therefore no problem with you finishing your life out loaded to the max, go for it……………..


3/26/2009 10:38:15 AM


I understand your conundrum, however don’t you think it would be more fair to end testing of employees, rather than adding additional expensive (and should be unconstitutional) testing programs?


3/26/2009 10:45:37 AM

Fidel, no if you are going to work for me, you have to be sober……………..


3/26/2009 11:07:22 AM

state of Colorado doesn’t test their employees


3/26/2009 11:35:19 AM

I don’t know how we could consider drug testing when there is an educational budget shortfall. Maybe we should put our money into something useful.


3/26/2009 12:14:51 PM

As long as they include Alcohol, Tobacco and Pharmaceutical drugs in the tests, and exclusions.


3/26/2009 1:04:30 PM

By denying them benefits your relinquishing them to the streets, adding to the already huge problem of the homeless which is already becoming a serious human health and safety problem.

Does anyone really want to triple the homeless population with more substance abusers?

I don’t know what the answer is, but this is not it.


3/26/2009 1:55:20 PM

There used to be, (don’t know if its still in effect) a law or ordinance either in the city or county that prevents(ed) employers from conducting random drug tests.Only pre-screening and post-accident tests were (are) allowed.


3/26/2009 1:57:52 PM

People do pay for unemployment insurance.Wages would be higher without it.Are these idiots going to try to apply the same rules to Social Security Disability?

If someone flunks the tests, what are they going to do to eat if they can’t get a job?Rob, steal or defraud.Then what will we do with them?


3/26/2009 3:26:32 PM

Dick_Tater: how do you know anyone is spending their unemployment money on drugs? maybe a friend came over and blew a joint with them. i don’t imbibe, by the way, just in case you were wondering.

this is a way to favor employers over workers, as is the republican way. jeez, talk about big government!

little by little, our freedom is being replaced by an increasingly intrusive government. big government is not just taxes, social programs and federal agencies; it also consists of laws that try to control every aspect of the lives of private, peace-abiding citizens.


3/26/2009 6:20:50 PM

The authorities in the old Soviet Union would never have dared to treat their workers this way. There’d have been riots.

What’s come over us? Workers are entitled under hard-won law to jobless benefits, however measly they are.

Since when are we expected to tolerate mandatory & demeaning drug testing as a precondition for employment in America?

And, now to further degrade & disrespect the vulnerable unemployed persons like this?

We are being treated like criminals, or worse, like children.

3/26/2009 9:52:53 PM

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