Maine Implemented An Elaborate New Drug Test For Welfare. Just One Person Flunked.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) | CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOEL PAGE

So the question begs to be asked:  Where is the lesson learned from Florida and other states who have implemented drug testing for welfare recipients?


Maine began screening applicants to its welfare program in April, requiring those with past drug felony convictions to take a drug test. But despite spending $624 on the program, just one person has tested positive so far, the Associated Press reports.

Only 15 applicants were referred to testing between April and June, and of those, 13 were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn’t show up for either the initial screening or the follow up drug test.

There could be many reasons those recipients couldn’t make it. Hamm said recipients choose the day and time for the test, which can be taken at 50 laboratory sites across the state. But access to those sites can still be difficult. Gov. Paul LePage (R) decided to move the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from downtown Portland to South Portland, making it an 80-minute round-trip, $3 journey away from the center of the city. Applicants may also not be able to secure child care or may object to the drug tests as an invasion of their privacy. Bethany Hamm, director of DHHS’s Office for Family Independence, told the Associated Press that the state will pay for travel costs for the tests and can also reschedule them.

Hamm also said that her office estimates 100 welfare recipients out of the state’s total of 5,700 have prior convictions and will eventually be screened.

They may not get many more positive tests, however. Seven other states have active drug testing programs for their welfare programs, but six have found positive drug test rates of below 1 percent, while all are below the national drug use rate of 9.4 percent. They had also collectively spent nearly $1 million to administer them as of earlier this year.

LePage has been waging a war on the poor for some time, trying to root out what he sees as fraud in welfare programs. He released a report on transactions at bars, sports bars, and strip clubs made with welfare benefit cards that he claimed showed a widespread problem but in reality showed these purchases made up less than one percent of all purchases and ATM withdrawals. Hereleased another report after that, costing the state nearly $1 million, that didn’t present any new recommendations. Still, he followed them up with a slew of “tough love” reform proposals for the state’s welfare program, including bans on using cards at tobacco, liquor, gambling, and bail places, adding a work search requirement for eligibility, and eliminating a job training program for parents pursuing college degrees. He also kicked thousands of people off of food stamps by reinstituting tougher eligibility rules.

States have come up with other ways to restrict welfare benefits, however. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been fighting with the federal government over his proposal to drug test food stamp applicants. Kansas and Arizona imposed lifetime limits on welfare benefits, with the latter cutting people off after just 12 months. And Wisconsin and Maine have also tried to restrict what food stamp recipients can buy with their benefit cards despite needing permission from the federal government to do so and no actual standards existing as to what constitutes junk food.


Indiana Welfare Drug Testing Bill Withdrawn After Amended To Include Testing Lawmakers

Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, speaks on a motion to fine absent Democrats at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012.

I couldn’t agree more that lawmakers across the country who want to issue drug testing on welfare recipients should be tested as well.  Having said that, I find it hilarious how quickly the Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly withdrew his bill when a Democrat amended the bill so that the legislators would be included in the testing…

The Huffington Post

A Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly withdrew his bill to create a pilot program for drug testing welfare applicants Friday after one of his Democratic colleagues amended the measure to require drug testing for lawmakers.

“There was an amendment offered today that required drug testing for legislators as well and it passed, which led me to have to then withdraw the bill,” said Rep. Jud McMillin (R-Brookville), sponsor of the original welfare drug testing bill .

The Supreme Court ruled drug testing for political candidates unconstitutional in 1997, striking down a Georgia law . McMillin said he withdrew his bill so he could reintroduce it on Monday with a lawmaker drug testing provision that would pass constitutional muster.

“I’ve only withdrawn it temporarily,” he told HuffPost, stressing he carefully crafted his original bill so that it could survive a legal challenge. Last year a federal judge, citing the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure, struck down a Florida law that required blanket drug testing of everyone who applied for welfare.

McMillin’s bill would overcome constitutional problems, he said, by setting up a tiered screening scheme in which people can opt-out of random testing. Those who decline random tests would only be screened if they arouse “reasonable suspicion,” either by their demeanor, by being convicted of a crime, or by missing appointments required by the welfare office.

In the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug testing in more than 30 states and in Congress, and some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs. Democrats in several states have countered with bills to require drug testing elected officials . Indiana state Rep. Ryan Dvorak (D-South Bend) introduced just such an amendment on Friday.

“After it passed, Rep. McMillin got pretty upset and pulled his bill,” Dvorak said. “If anything, I think it points out some of the hypocrisy. … If we’re going to impose standards on drug testing, then it should apply to everybody who receives government money.”

Continued here…

Virginia Legislature Latest To Advance Drug Testing The Poor And Unemployed

Now who’s calling for a class war?

The Huffington Post

Virginia Republicans are the latest to advance drug testing for the poor and jobless as a half-dozen bills requiring the needy and unemployed to prove they’re not on drugs move through the state legislature.

More than 30 states in the past year have considered legislation to require drug tests for welfare recipients, and several have also targeted unemployment claimants. Virginia State Sen. Richard Black (R), a sponsor of drug testing, told HuffPost he’s not surprised by the surge of interest.

“Frankly, I think the use of drugs for some people is the reason they are unemployed,” Black said. “I don’t believe that taxpayers have an obligation to pay for recreational drug use … And I think if a person has the money to pay for illicit drugs, then they have the money to support themselves.”

Over objections by Virginia House Democrats, the Committee on Health and Welfare Institutions on Tuesday approved one of several bills that would require welfare recipients to be screened in order to qualify for assistance.

The bill  would require every person on public assistance in Virginia to be evaluated to determine the likelihood that they are on drugs. Anyone who aroused suspicion in an initial screening would have to submit to a drug test or be thrown off public assistance for one year. The law would allow those with positive results to attend an approved drug treatment program.

Continue reading here…

Orrin Hatch: Drug Test The Unemployed

Orrin Hatch has apparently lost touch with reality and the constitution…

Huffington Post

Utah voters have reacted enthusiastically to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s legislation to drug test the unemployed and those receiving other forms of government cash assistance, the Utah Republican told the Huffington Post after introducing his measure last week.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Hey, it’s about time. Why do we keep giving money to people who are going to go use it on drugs instead of their families?'” Hatch said.

The goal, he said, is to get users into treatment.

“Now, it doesn’t do away with food stamps. And it does get the help for them that they really need. And if they get the help, then they’re right back on to the cash,” he said.

He said he has gotten little feedback from his colleagues, however. Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) all told HuffPost they don’t have an opinion yet on Hatch’s measure and will have to study the language.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), meanwhile, has an opinion. “I think it’s a punitive attitude. Who’s going to pay for the test? What’s the point of the test? You know, why do you want to drug test people who have lost their job?” she wondered.

Hatch said the test would be paid for with money saved by not paying benefits. “Any monies left over would go to help the states with the drug testing and so forth, and if there’s any surplus it goes to pay off the deficit,” he said.   Read more…