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January 15, 2012 07:00 PM UTC

Because We Can: Drug Tests For Welfare Applicants!

  • by: Colorado Pols

Here’s another fascinating piece of rock-ribbed conservative legislation introduced last week in the House–HB12-1046, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg in the House and Sen. Greg Brophy in the Senate, has a pretty simple objective:

The bill requires a person applying for assistance through the Colorado works program (works program) to take a drug test for the presence of controlled substances as a condition of eligibility for assistance. If an applicant fails the drug test, the applicant may reapply for assistance 1 year after the date of the drug test. However, a person may reapply after 6 months if the person successfully completes a substance abuse treatment program.

The applicant is required to pay the cost of the drug test. If the applicant passes the drug test, the applicant’s initial assistance will be increased by the cost of the drug test.

The dependent child of an applicant who fails the drug test shall still be eligible to receive assistance, but the county department of human services will be required to approve a protective payee to receive the assistance on behalf of the dependent child. The protective payee will also need to pass the drug test.

In a way, this really isn’t out of character for Sen. Greg Brophy, who regrettably claimed last year on talk radio that Colorado’s poor families were “playing in the lottery and buying cigarettes” instead of providing health care for their children. But legislation to force applicants to the Colorado Works temporary welfare program to submit to a drug test isn’t Sen. Brophy’s original idea. In Florida, similar legislation was passed last year at the behest of that state’s Gov. Rick Scott. And as the Tampa Tribune reported last fall, it’s not going very well:

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows…

Having begun the drug testing in mid-July, the state Department of Children and Families is still tabulating the results. But at least 1,000 welfare applicants took the drug tests through mid-August, according to the department, which expects at least 1,500 applicants to take the tests monthly.

So far, they say, about 2 percent of applicants are failing the test; another 2 percent are not completing the application process, for reasons unspecified.

Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

By October, the program had resulted in only 32 positive drug tests, and 7,000 negatives. The unresolved point of debate is over the estimated 1,600 people who failed to complete the application process during this period: some of them wouldn’t have anyway, but it’s reasonable to assume that some others were indeed deterred by the drug screening.

Regardless, on October 25th of last year, a federal judge ordered a halt to Florida’s drug testing program for welfare recipients, which the ACLU charged was “suspicionless drug testing” prohibited by Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure:

The court reaffirmed that testing urine for drugs is a search, that application for a public benefit cannot depend on an unconstitutional condition, and that the state of Florida had fallen woefully short of establishing any need to conduct suspicionless testing.

In 1999, the state of Michigan attempted to institute a policy of random drug testing for welfare recipients, struck down by federal courts in the case of Marchwinski v. Bowler for the same essential reason–“suspicionless” drug testing without a public safety need is unconstitutional.

So why would we want a law in Colorado that is a wash fiscally at best, has been ruled unconstitutional in other states, and forces 98% of a group of people to submit to a humiliating violation of privacy to catch the tiny percentage who may be doing something wrong? In Florida, Gov. Scott asserted his belief that welfare recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the general population–an assertion the results of Florida’s actual testing proves wrong. The University of Utah studied the issue recently, and concluded that the rate of drug use among welfare recipients is about the same as the general population. And it’s not like you can justify this by comparing it to, say, airport security, where there is an actual public safety objective.

No, folks. You only introduce bills like this when your presumptions–arrogant, meanspirited, maybe even a little bigoted presumptions–matter more than the facts.


36 thoughts on “Because We Can: Drug Tests For Welfare Applicants!

  1. Yes, it is because persons like Brophy can propose that applicants be tested, or, is it because ALEC recommends to him that he propose the bill, because it is good for the testing industry?  Or, the private prison industry, OR?

    1. Nearly $600k for Sonnenberg, over $100k for the watermelon farmer.  Let’s line up Brophy’s relatives in one line and a similar group of single, eastern Colorado moms in another.  Let’s take bets on which group can pass with a 100% clean rate.  My money is on the moms.

  2. legislation more proof that too many of our Republican legislators are only interested in proposing legislation for the purpose of grandstanding with the base than they are in solving real problems. What else will they waste their time on?  something to do with the pledge of Allegiance, a mandated moment of silent prayer?  Fighting on the side of beleaguered Christmas.  Not drowning cute puppies?

    I can’t source it but I remember hearing on NPR that the drug usage rate, according to one study, for those applying for assistance was actually lower than  that for the population in general, maybe because people who need assistance don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on illegal drugs.

    This is another outrageous continuation of  the Reagan method of pitting the working classes against the poor so they won’t notice how the Republican corporate wealth and power elite is screwing them, downsizing them, sending jobs that pay well over seas and replacing them, when they replace them at all, with burger flipper pay scale jobs.  

    It get’s harder and harder to sympathize with the easily manipulated, ignorant shrinking middle class electorate that got us where we are today and has been falling for this crap with the regularity of Charlie Brown falling for Lucy with the football.

    Don’t these lawmakers’ constituents think there are any more important issues to deal with? Or do they honestly believe these non-issues should take priority?  Excuse me.  For a second there I was actually assuming they pay attention.

    Or, to be fair, do our tangle of mandates by constitutional amendment leave legislators with their hands tied in so many areas that they can’t think of 5 pieces of legislation that would conform to them all so they may as well go straight for this kind of nonsense to appeal to their gullible, bigoted base?

    Wait a minute.  Maybe that’s why the right is so fond of amendment instead of legislation.  They are relieved of tough choices to solve real problems and can focus exclusively on red meat for the base.  

    1. the people that are LEAST likely to support any form of drug reform are those with young children. Oh look, this pretty much just affects TANF. Add in that benefits are cut off for anyone with a felony drug conviction, in addition to any repercussions through child welfare agencies. Would a positive drug test be usable as evidence in criminal investigations? Custody fights?

      Does Brophy really need to pile on when there are already overwhelming incentives for those receiving public assistance to not use drugs?

    1. Drug addled legislators and company officers are in a position to do us all a lot more damage than are a scant handful of welfare recipients. Bet a higher percentage would flunk, too.  

    2. from Enterprise Zone tax breaks should have to test for illegal drugs “as a condition for eligibility for assistance.” There’s no other way to make sure “those people” aren’t using our tax dollars for dangerous thrills.

    3. Tests for legislators, officers of any company that contracts with the state, officers of any company that receives tax breaks/incentives/enterprise zones/etc. It’s all direct payment of tax money or “tax expenditures” through tax breaks.

      1. if they had to complete some dexterity and reaction-time test in order to vote each time. I would feel more comfortable knowing legislators aren’t drunk during roll calls, and this would be a more affordable way to prove it.  

  3. In addition to drug testing for welfare applicants, let’s have drug testing for corporate welfare applicants.

    1. The owners and officers of corporations that get public subsidies for projects ( like the multi-million dollar tax subsidy  for the developers of the proposed stock show complex in Aurora).

    2. All developers who set up special improvement districts for their developments for tax free financing of their projects (a taxpayer subsidy).

    3. Any corporation that gets any government grant, loan, or loan guarantee ( usually hyped as economic development but in many cases is just corporate welfare).

  4. The undying support of key players within the U.S. towards Monsanto is undeniably made clear not only in this release, but in the legislative decisions taken by organizations such as the FDA and USDA. Legislative decisions such as allowing Monsanto’s synthetic hormone Posilac (rBGH) to be injected into U.S. cows despite being banned in 27 countries. How did Monsanto pull this off?

    The biotech juggernaut managed to infiltrate the FDA positions responsible for the approval of rBGH, going as far as instating the company’s own Margaret Miller as Deputy Director of Human Safety and Consultative Services. After assuming this position, Miller reviewed her own report on the safety and effectiveness of rBGH.

    Must we parrot their “news” and waste our time with their bullshit?  

  5. Let’s also check for the presence of alcohol, tobacco, and let’s check the BMIs of people applying for public assistance to make sure they aren’t fatties hooked on cigarettes, alcohol, and $1 menu items from crappy fast food joints.

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