Although ordering drug tests for Welfare recipients tends to be a politically popular move, especially among conservatives, Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine is learning that he may have inadvertently exaggerated the benefits of such a measure.
In April, Main began drug testing people with prior felony drug convictions who receive benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. At the time, LePage said it would help cut down on costs by eliminating drug users from the program. However, just 15 applicants were referred to testing between April and June, the most recent data available, and 13 of those people were blocked from benefits because they didn’t show up or go to the follow up drug test.
Only one person tested positive for drugs. However, about 100 recipients need to be screened out of about 5,700 benefits recipients, ABC News reported.
Seven other states have drug testing mandates attached to their welfare programs, but six of those states have positive drug test rates below 1 percent, Think Progress reported. By contrast, about 9.4 percent of the general population uses drugs.
"The purpose of laws like this is to help people into treatment or to identify people who are using drugs. What we are seeing, which is what we suspected, is that people are being denied benefits for other reasons," said Oamshri Amarasingham, public policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which opposes the drug testing efforts.
Amarasingham also argued many recipients can’t get to testing centers or can’t find adequate child care. "It's not clear at all that people are skipping drug tests because they are drug users," she said.
So far, the program has cost $624 - paid through a federal grant.