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August 29th, 2013 By German Lopez | News | Posted In: News, Welfare, Economy

Drug Testing for Welfare Mired in Failure

State senator gives proposal another shot in Ohio

ohio statehouseOhio Statehouse

State Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) is introducing legislation Thursday that would attach mandatory drug testing to welfare benefits, even though similar policies have proven to be costly with little gain in other states.

“It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer told The Columbus Dispatch. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”

Under the proposal, welfare recipients in three counties would be required to take a drug test if they admit in a questionnaire to using drugs in the past six months. Children, who make up a bulk of welfare recipients, would be exempt. (In June, 24,443 adults and 105,822 children obtained welfare benefits in Ohio, according to data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.)

The policy, which was originally touted as a way to reduce welfare costs, has backfired in many states.

That’s why the supporting line is now about preventing dollars from going to drug dealers instead of cost savings.

Deseret News reports the latest problems in Utah: “Utah has spent more than $30,000 to screen welfare applicants for drug use since a new law went into effect a year ago, but only 12 people have tested positive, state figures show.”

When Ohio legislators in 2012 proposed a drug testing requirement for welfare benefits, CityBeat reported another failure in Florida originally covered by The Miami Herald: In that state, the program had a net loss of $45,780 after it reimbursed falsely accused welfare recipients for their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9 percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana.

Utah and Florida are among eight states that have enacted drug testing requirements for welfare recipients since 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A court placed an injunction on the Florida program after the American Civil Liberties Union sued on September 2011. That injunction was upheld on Feb. 26 by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which concluded, “The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF (welfare) applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy.”

Given that Schaffer’s bill would require drug testing only after information is solicited through questionnaires, it’s unclear whether legal challenges like the one in Florida would be successful in Ohio.

 
 
 
 
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