Oregon Bills Require Drug Testing for Public Assistance

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By Jen Alexander

Senate Bill 538, sponsored by Senator STARR (R-Hillsboro), requires drug testing for all adult applicants and recipients for public assistance; if the applicant or recipient fails the drug test, their benefits will be revoked:

SECTION 2.  { + (1) The Department of Human Services shall adopt rules that require adult applicants for and recipients of public assistance to undergo testing for substances of abuse as defined in ORS 438.010.

Medical marijuana patients shouldn’t have to worry that they will “fail” this test, since “substances of abuse” under ORS 438.010 specifically exempts those “allowed by law and as defined in ORS chapter 475 [the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act is begins at ORS 475.300] or as used in ORS 689.005 [refers to prescription medication and other nonprescription medication given by a licensed pharmacist].”

However, there are still concerns, since all adult applicants or recipients of public assistance will be required to test prior to receiving any public assistance, and to retest every six months of continued assistance thereafter.    It also appears that Oregon Medical Marijuana Program participants would be required to be drug tested under this bill – but it appears only drugs other than marijuana would count against them based on the bill’s language.

Public assistance in Oregon includes a number of categories of individuals (number of recipients and date of statistics in parenthesis):

-- TANF recipients (cash benefits) (75, 874 people, November 2010)
-- JOBS participants (16,637 people, November 2010)
-- Employment Related Daycare (10,308 people, November 2010
-- Temporary Assistance for Domestic Violence Survivors (519 people, November 2010)
-- Statewide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (741,419 people, November 2010)
-- SNAP [aka food stamps] (557,015, November 2010)
-- Children, Adults and Families Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (636,258 people, November 2010)
-- Unemployment (209,601 people, November 2010)
-- Oregon Health Plan and other health programs (585,617 people, November 2010)
-- Refugees (820 people, 2009)
-- And potentially Oregon Supplemental Income Program, SSI (Supplemental Social Security Payments) and OSIPM (Oregon Supplemental Income Program Medical), Foster Care payments, Energy Assistance, Free and Reduced Lunch Program, etc.
-- And “Any other functions that may be delegated to the Director of Human Services by or in accordance with federal and statelaws.”   This one could potentially mandate that all Oregon Medical Marijuana Program patients also submit to a drug test, under this particular definition, or have their card revoked?  There are over 40,000 current OMMP patients.

It appears that this would include a broad population of people.  The programs with the largest number of people involved in them above include children, who are not drug-tested under this bill.  However, it is safe to assume that there will be at least 200,000 people or more who require drug testing (using the unemployed as the largest number that does not include children, to eliminate overlap in programs).  This number could be substantially higher – as it varies by program whether a child is the “recipient” or whether the parent is the “recipient” on the child’s behalf – and therefore hard to tell how many of the 600,000 on food stamps are children or adults.

The ACLU, while documenting the reasons they are opposed to drug-testing welfare recipients, estimated the cost of each drug test at about $42 in April of 2008.  For 200,000 tests, that is approximately $8.4 million dollars more in expenditures for the state to absorb for the test only, without consideration for administrative costs, oversight to ensure patients complied, etc (or higher if my estimate is low).  The ACLU further notes that drug tests do not detect alcohol abuse – “the most commonly abused substance among Americans.”


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