A new bill, introduced last week in the Arkansas state legislature, makes the state the 13th this year to consider drug testing people who apply for government benefits.
KARK News reports the bill, if it were to become law, would require a person applying to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program to pass a drug test if he or she is suspected of drug use.
TANF is a federal program — often referred to as “welfare” — and is administered by the state’s Department of Workforce Services.
Proponents of the bill say similar measures are being used in nearby states.
Twelve states have already passed drug screening programs that are being enforced to varying degrees. The Huffington Post reported last month that Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia were also planning this year to consider drug testing applicants for government assistance.
Those opposed to the bill in Arkansas say the testing might be a waste of money.
Recent news from Tennessee might suggest the opponents are right.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Tennessee’s drug screening program is among the most extensive in the country. Anyone in the state applying for assistance — including TANF, food stamps and Medicaid — must pass a drug test if he or she is suspected of drug use.
But a February story from The Tennesseean reported that the screening program wasn’t finding all that many drug users. The state reportedly tested 16,017 applicants between July and December and only found 37 of those who tested positive.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee, said the results were proof that the state was unfairly targeting a vulnerable part of its population.
“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 in Arkansas, state Sen. Blake Johnson told KARK the bill should move forward in the legislature.
“It's about the accountability for receiving those benefits,” Johnson said.