Legislators in 12 states, this year, will consider bills that would require applicants for state assistance, including unemployment insurance and food stamps, to pass a drug screening before receiving benefits.
Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia seek to join 12 other states that have passed similar measures in recent years, according to The Huffington Post.
Of the 12 states whose legislatures have passed such requirements, Tennessee has the most comprehensive program. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Tennessee tests recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, benefits.
West Virginia’s currently proposed measure is just as comprehensive and passed a legislative hurdle in the state Senate earlier this month, according to WDTV News. That bill, if passed, would establish a "Suspicion-based" policies have become the norm since a federal appeals court, in December, upheld a ruling that Florida’s law, which required drug testing for all applicants, was unconstitutional.
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But opponents of such laws say they are not only ineffective but that they unfairly target poor people by requiring testing for assistance programs while other people, such as college students, veterans and farmers, routinely receive government subsidies without being tested.
A recent story from The Tennessean reported that Tennessee’s program tested 16,017 applicants for drug use between July and December. The screening process found only 37 applicants who tested positive for illegal drug use.
Those results have many saying the state is searching for a problem that doesn’t exist.
Hedy Weinberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, is among them.
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“You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs,” Weinberg said. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true."
But Republican state Rep. Glen Casada applauded the success of the Tennessee program.
“That’s 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to,” Casada said. “If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to. This is a good use of taxpayer money.”
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