In April 2015, Maine adopted a new law that required enrollees in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) undergo drug testing to obtain their benefits. Since then, $624 has been spent drug testing state welfare recipients and only one person has actually tested positive for substance abuse.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, pitched the measure as a way to prevent taxpayers from supporting drug habits and to give an incentive to those who are struggling to secure employment because of substance issues to finally kick the habit, according to Attn. The drug-screening assessments were given to welfare recipients who had been previously convicted of drug felony crimes. LePage pushed for all welfare recipients to undergo the assessments, but his measure failed, the Huffington Post reports.
By the end of June 2015, only 15 recipients had been scheduled for drug testing with only two showing up to their appointments. Of those two, only one tested positive for drug use, who was then barred from their welfare benefits. The 13 who failed to show up were also denied TANF benefits.
"We are moving through methodically so that we don't inadvertently test somebody that we shouldn't be testing," says Bethany Hamm, director of TANF’s Office for Family Independence, according to the Huffington Post. "It is important for us to make sure that we are doing all we can to help these families and get them back into a place where they can achieve self-sufficiency and get out of poverty."
Hamm added that TANF recipients asked to take a drug test are given full flexibility on scheduling their appointment and have 50 laboratories across the state to choose from for testing. If they fail to show up, she reasons, it’s most likely because they were not going to pass.
This new program has drawn criticism from groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is particularly concerned that welfare recipients who merely fail to appear at their scheduled appointments can lose their benefits.
"It's not clear at all that people are skipping drug tests because they are drug users," says Oamshri Amarasingham, the public policy counsel of ACLU’s Maine branch.
She added that it is troubling that many of the people who miss an appointment due to any number of reasons will automatically be labeled a drug user and lose their benefits.
Maine welfare recipients who are banned for testing positive for drugs can regain their benefits if they submit to a substance abuse rehabilitation program.