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Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients

Drug Test for Welfare

Do drug tests for welfare recipients save money or have any positive effects on society? Most of the data published has echoed the sentiments of the organization that published it. It’s not easy to quantify the success of these programs because the number of welfare applicants change as the economy improves and declines.

In a study conducted and touted by Think Progress they found that only 1% out of the 263,000 applicants that could have been subjected to drug testing were rejected. Think Progress is a liberal organization that sets out to oppose drug testing for welfare recipients.

Their claim is somewhat misleading; the 263,000 number is included in almost every mention of the study but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the results. Also states enacting drug testing expect it to deter applicants that wouldn’t be able to pass a screening.

 

Drug Tests for Welfare in 2018
Thinkprogress showed that overall a lot of money was spent to have only a small percentage of applicants test positive.

 

For example Utah spent $30,000 in 2013 on their drug tests for welfare program, but only 12 people tested positive. 250 others did not meet testing requirements however and Governor Brad Wilson stated that denying benefits to those people alone saved the state $350,000. Brad Wilson has a vested interested in the success of the program because he promoted it.

It would be hard to calculate the number of people that did not apply because they knew they had a drug habit and did not want to subject themselves to testing.

In another instance of organizations pushing their agendas the Florida Civil Liberties union found that Florida’s welfare drug testing program cost the state $45,000 more in testing than it saved in welfare payments. After a Florida judged blocked the bill and made the state pay out benefits retroactively the conservative Foundation for Government Accountability showed that costs grew quickly which suggests that the law was saving money.

Arguments for Drug Testing

There have been several arguments made for mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients. The primary motivation for voters is that they believe their tax money should not be given out in entitlements that subsidize behavior they disapprove of.

Some of the primary goals of welfare drug test programs are

  • Referring people that test positive to treatment
  • incentivizing recipients to abstain from drug use
  • reduce spending on welfare
  • identifying custodians of minors that use drugs
  • denying benefits to people that would subsidize their drug habit with them

Proponents point out that most employers drug test their employees and think that it isn’t fair that welfare recipients do not work and aren’t subjected to the same scrutiny.

Arguments Against Drug Testing

The primary arguments against drug testing recipients are

  • The cost outweighs the savings
  • drug addicts on welfare are deterred from seeking treatment
  • such laws unfairly target poor and minority citizens
  • it’s a violation of the 4th amendment

32 proposed bills focused on drug tests for welfare recipients in 2009 and 2010 but none of them made it to a legislative vote because they mostly focused on testing every applicant as a requirement for receiving benefits.

A 2003 court of appeals case Marchwinski v. Howard found that subjecting every welfare recipient to drug testing with no reasonable suspicion was unconstitutional. However the federal government does require any employee that works for a company that competes for federal contracts to be subjected to random drug testing under the Drug Free Workplace Act.

Opponents of these laws say that the premise itself is discriminatory because it suggests that welfare recipients are more likely to use drugs. In the vein of the Drug Free Workplace Act you could look at it as anyone that accepts federal or state funds is subject to higher scrutiny.

Public Sentiment

Public sentiment is divided about drug testing welfare recipients, but it’s not divided along party lines as much as other mainstream topics of political discussion.

Since we could not find a published study that didn’t seem to have a political bias at its core we decided to do our own survey about the public’s opinion on drug testing welfare applicants and recipients.

In a study we conducted of 400 random Kentucky residents 183 said they did not support drug testing welfare applicants, 116 said they did support drug testing welfare applicants, and 101 had a mixed opinion and did not definitively choose. I expected the results to be closer to an even split, but it was clear that overall the majority of the public doesn’t clearly support welfare drug testing legislation.

We hoped that the participants would correspond to political affiliation and income levels nationally, but we had a higher level of lower income individuals.

A surprising aspect is that the group that most likely supported drug testing welfare recipients were recovering drug addicts. There was also a level of bi-partisan support on the basis of “if I have to be drug tested to work my job they should be drug tested to receive my taxes”.

 

SentimentNumber of Votes
No183 (46%)
Yes116 (29%)
Unclear101 (25%)

 

Some of the reasoning we received from people surveyed was very interesting. Here is a sample of some of the more interesting remarks.

No Voters

“I’m a hater of government assistance but I still don’t see any fairness in requiring drug tests for benefits. We don’t drug test business owners that get tax breaks or subsidies.” – M.B.

“A lot of these same folks would end up homeless, clogging the streets, increasing crime, and cost even more money long term. What’s the better alternative?” -M.G.

“No. It’s become increasingly difficult to even get benefits as it is. Single adults without kids must have a job or do community service to even receive SNAP now. Someone with no job that just wants to get free assistance won’t get anything anyway.” – C.M.

“Nope. If they start testing then all government (state and federal) employees should be tested as well.” -J.C.

Yes Voters

“I’m tested every time I start a new job and am subject to random testing. It’s a requirement for my paycheck, why should it be any different when it comes to using my taxes for people on welfare. I’m certainly not against welfare, and am a firm believer that it’s a good thing when used as it was intended.” – J.P.

“Yes cause odds are if the parents are on drugs they are trading food stamps for money to get drugs so children aren’t getting the food they need anyway and children should go to someone else that will feed and take care of them properly.” -C.R.

“I think yes! People are saying children are involved and will go without food, but so would the children of parents loses their job due to a failed drug test. People on drugs get way too many free passes and handouts yet not getting any real help offered to them, like rehab, counseling.” – S.J.

Unclear Voters

“There’s good and bad in it. We get tested to work so they should get tested to draw. At the same time what do we do with the people getting cut that become homeless? What about the children who were barely eating before? They should be tested, but we need a plan to negate the negatives before it can be considered.” – M.J.

“Hard question because the kids gotta eat it isn’t their fault. But who’s to say the parents use the welfare for food?” – K.J.

“If they get tested, they would have to test levels. Because even if they get prescribed the medicine they can still abuse it.” – K.J.

Welfare Drug Testing Laws by State

Alabama – 2014 passed a law that requires welfare recipients with a drug conviction in the last 5 years to submit to drug testing.

Arkansas – 2017 Arkansas passed SB 123 making their drug testing program permanent.

Florida – 2011 passed a law HB 353 requiring all applicants for TANF benefits to be tested. Florida courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.

Georgia – 2012 passed legislation requiring drug tests for all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Kansas – 2013, Kansas enacted legislation to require drug testing for applicants and recipients suspected of using controlled substances.

Maine – 2015 passed a law requiring welfare recipients that had a prior drug conviction to submit to drug testing.

Michigan – Governor Rick Snyder signed HB 4118 and SB 275 into law on December 24, 2014. The bills require the Department of Human Services to establish and administer a suspicion-based drug screening and testing program in at least three counties.

Missouri – 2011 passed HB 73 requiring the department to require a urine drug test for all applicants and recipients of TANF for whom they have reasonable cause to believe based on screening that they are engaged in illegal use.

Mississippi – 2014 Governor Phil Bryant signed HB 49 into law on March 24, 2014. The bill requires all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to complete a written questionnaire to determine the likelihood of a substance abuse problem. If the results indicate a likelihood the person has a substance abuse problem, the applicant must submit to a drug test.

North Carolina – 2013 passed HB 392 which included a provision to require drug testing of welfare applicants or recipients based on reasonable suspicion.

Oklahoma – 2012 passed HB 2388 requiring DHS to screen all adult applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to determine if they are engaged in illegal use of controlled substances.

Tennessee – 2012 approved a bill to require the department to develop a plan for substance abuse testing for all applicants.

Utah – 2012, passed HB 155 requiring individuals applying for cash assistance to complete a written questionnaire screening for illegal drug use. If there is reason to believe the person has a substance use disorder or is engaging in illegal drug activity, the applicant must take a drug test.

Wisconsin – 2015 budget bill (SB 21) included a provision to drug test individuals participating in the Wisconsin Works and the Transform Milwaukee Jobs program and work experience programs for non-custodial parents. The bill also included a provision to test applicants for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which was challenged by the Federal government.

West Virginia – 2016 Governor Tomblin signed SB 6 on March 23, 2016, which creates a 3-year pilot program to screen welfare applicants for substance abuse issues. If the caseworker has reason to believe the applicant is abusing drugs, a drug test will be ordered.

 

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Requirements for Conducting Legal Random Drug Testing

Requirements for legal random drug testing

Random drug testing is an important part of maintaining an effective and safe workforce. Many large companies outsource drug testing because they believe the requirements are too costly. Let’s break down the requirements for conducting legal random drug testing for your business.

Identify Requirements for Legal Random Drug Testing

Most large corporations use the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 as a starting point for their random drug testing program. It is required that all businesses that seek federal contracts abide by the drug free workplace act and SAMHSA provides a comprehensive toolkit for meeting all the requirements.

If you have a large business and expect to apply for federal contracts anytime soon I suggest hiring a consultant and studying the SAMHSA provided information in detail.

 

Drug Free Workplace Notice
One of the requirements of the Drug Free Workplace act was that employers must display a sign like this in their business where all employees can see it.

 

For a random drug testing program to consider the law as much as possible it will need to be part of a larger drug free workplace policy that covers everyone working for your business. Your drug free workplace policy will be comprehensive and will outline all drug testing that your organization plans on conducting.

Your business may be subject to additional regulations and laws depending on your industry and the states you operate in, but the Drug Free Workplace Act is a good starting point. Some industries also have more strenuous requirements like companies that are subject to DOT regulations.

Which Drug Tests are Legal?

You can use any drug test you want for random testing as long as the staff are trained and certified in conducting and interpreting them. The FDA separates in vitro tests into 3 categories

  • High Complexity
  • Moderate complexity
  • CLIA Waived

To use high complexity or moderate complexity tests from a legal standpoint you have to meet some very strenuous requirements, so strenuous that it really isn’t feasible for a business that isn’t an actual laboratory with an executive director that is a PHD specializing in chemical tests.

Since the additional cost is minimal and it takes care of many legal issues, you will need to make sure you are using a CLIA waived multi drug test like our 12 Panel drug test cup. This also solves the problem of deciding what drugs to test employees for because all of the drugs that have a CLIA waiver in place are included.

When drug testing employees always follow best practices for employee drug testing especially when it comes to maintaining a chain of custody and verifying positive results with a confirmatory screening.

Basic Guidelines for a Legal Random Drug Testing Program

Written Drug Free Workplace Policy

The first thing you need to do is create an internal document outlining your drug free workplace policy. It is a good idea to consult an employment attorney when drawing up your procedures, penalties and policy.

 

Drug Free Workplace Policy Signature Page
Every employee should have a signature page from your drug free workplace policy on file. This is proof that the employee was aware of and agreed to your policy.

 

Employees should sign a copy and be given their own copy of your drug free workplace policy when they submit an application. This will deter heavy drug users and will make it clear to others that you take drug use seriously. You can use the Drug Free Workplace Act as a basis for your own policy.

Clearly Identify Penalties

Every employee should know what the penalties for violating your drug free workplace policy are and what to expect if they fail a drug test. Be as detailed and specific as possible in regards to penalties and be consistent with enforcement.

A company policy is far less questionable than the judgement of a manager. This is your opportunity to be as lenient or as strict as you’d like in regards to how you handle policy violations.

Outline Drug Testing Guidelines

Explain who will be tested, when they will be tested and be a detailed as possible.

For example, you will want to clearly identify that employees can be tested for pre-employment, post accident, and random drug testing at a minimum. If you include instances such as suspected drug use you will need to have your supervisors trained and certified to identify impairment.

The more specific you are in your outline the better your will be protected in case of a dispute. For instance if you say that 50% of the workforce will be randomly selected for testing every 12 months and then follow those guidelines an employee can’t accuse the company of discrimination as easily.

Provide Training

The more training you have for your employees involved in a drug testing program the better. There are certifications for everything from administering drug tests to identifying impairment.

At the very least employees involved in carrying out your drug free workplace policy should have in house training and semi annual retraining for their particular roles.

In larger companies a Medical Review Officer will be employed with specialized medical training in handling samples and following structural guidelines. In smaller companies an employee in HR will usually handle screening in addition to other duties.

Drug Testing

There are many benefits to drug testing employees, and it will be the center of your drug free workplace policy. Drug testing will help lower your insurance rates, improve workplace safety and reduce costs. Most business will employ 3 primary types of drug testing:

  • Pre employment drug tests
  • Post Injury drug tests
  • Random drug tests

You can legally send an employee for a drug test if you suspect they are high on the job, but you need to have trained persons make that judgement call and be prepared to back it up in court. It is actually very rare for someone that fails a drug test to fight it in court after the fact, but as a business owner you want to prepare for the worst.

Employee Education for Drug abuse

It is often considered a duty of an employer to help educate their staff about drug abuse and encourage them to abstain from illegal substances.

Provide education and training that reinforces healthy  behaviors and spreads awareness about the effects substance abuse can have on health and employment.

You can do this by bringing in a medical expert annually for continuing education, or by meeting with each employee individually.

Supervisor Training

The staff member that supervises your Drug Free Workplace policy is a very important cornerstone for the entire program.

Depending on the size of your business the supervisor may be the sole administrator of the Drug Free Workplace Program or they may supervise a staff of several different professionals.

Supervisors should be intimately familiar with every detail of the program and be able to thoroughly document everything in a fair, systematic and unbiased way. The supervisor is responsible for identifying possible legal issues and tracking state and federal laws that affect your policy.

Employee Assistance & Rehabilitation

No business wants to lose a good employee to drug abuse. Gainful employment is one of the biggest incentives for a drug user to stay clean, and studies have shown that employees that are in recovery may be even better than average employees; they miss fewer days and have a 21% lower turnover rate.

Part of a drug free workplace policy is offering employees a second chance when they violate the rules.

Always document violations clearly and have the employee and their supervisor sign off. If you have documentation to back up that your employee has repeatedly violated a company policy then there is very little room to misinterpret a company’s actions.

Additional Tips for Avoiding Legal Action

Protect Employee Privacy

Protecting employee privacy is one of the key requirements for legal drug random drug testing. Since drug testing is considered a medical test there is an expectation of employee privacy. Test results are confidential and only the appropriate personnel should have access to them.

You should never comment on an employee’s drug use as it pertains to your drug free workplace policy. Do not gossip with your family and do not discuss it with employees. Violating an employee’s privacy could potentially lead to significant legal hurdles so it’s better to adopt a zero tolerance policy and be safe rather than sorry.

Do Not Rush to Judgement

Enforcing a drug testing policy requires a professional and systematic approach. It is very easy to let emotions become involved when you believe an employee has endangered your business and co workers through reckless behavior, but you need to strictly stick to your policy to afford yourself the most protection.

In a worst case scenario one of your managers dislikes a subordinate and decides to drug test them. The manager gossips to others that the employee is a drug addict and it gets back to them. They end up passing the test, but now at the very least you have a difficult situation between two employees and at worse your employee has a case for slander and your company violating a policy they developed. It could also make future termination proceedings very difficult because there is now a record of your company seemingly targeting them for termination.

Be Consistent

A drug free workplace policy has no room for playing favorites or discriminating against employees you no longer like. Rules need to be enforced across the board and if you say you’re going to do 25 random drug tests per year you need to do exactly 25.

If you go 4 years without doing a random drug test and then one day drug test 5 employees and 1 is dirty, it could seem like you targeted that employee specifically.

 

 

 

 

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Pennsylvania Court: Welfare Agency Cannot Mandate Drug Testing

David J Russo Greene County District Attorney

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that child protection officials may not order drug tests as part of a child abuse investigation on Tuesday, June 16th. The Justices sided with prosecutor David J. Russo who had recently come under fire from CPS agents.

Greene county received a confidential tip that David Russo was seen publicly intoxicated while caring for five children and that he had been charged with spousal abuse. The Greene County child protective service recused themselves and brought in Fayette county officials to complete an investigation.

The unanimous decision says that the law “does not expressly or implicitly authorize collecting samples of bodily fluids, without consent, for testing”.

David Russo said in a phone interview “I think this a great victory for the people against government intrusion. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has sided with the people.”

Fayette county lost a decision in a lower court that would have required Russo to submit to a drug screen and allow investigators to inspect the condition of his home. All five of his children were interviewed at school and the state was unable to substantiate any claims from the confidential tip.

David J. Russo was elected as a Republican to the office of District Attorney for Greene county last November. During his campaign he was also successfully representing himself in this legal dispute which he said “had become routine practice in Greene County”.  Greene suggested it was very prevalent for child protective services to drug test both parents in every investigation before the superior court ruled in his favor.

 

David J Russo swearing in ceremony
David J. Russo was sworn in as Greene County District Attorney in November 2019. He was engaged in court proceedings regarding the ruling at that time.

 

The first complaint about Russo came in October 2018. An unidentified source claimed he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol about two weeks earlier, while he was defending a client before Greene County Children and Youth Services. The second and third reports were in November 2018, alleging he had been “completely out of it” in public and that there was “domestic violence in the home,”.

Russo argued that the order to produce an observed urine drug screen violated his 4th amendment rights and requiring it “will inevitably lead to the forcible extraction of bodily fluids, the incarceration of parents for refusing to comply, or the exile of parents from their children.”