Georgia Governor Nathan Deal approved a bill on Monday evening that will soon require all applicants to the state cash assistance program to pass a drug test. The law will face legal challenges from Georgia civil liberties groups. The Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, as the law is called, will take effect on July 1st. It closely resembles a Florida law that in October was blocked by a federal district judge citing “constitutional infringement.”
At least two-dozen other states are now considering laws that would require TANF applicants to undergo drug tests before receiving benefits. The laws have gained widespread support despite scant evidence of a problem to be solved. In the four months when Florida’s law was in play before it was blocked in October, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for drugs.
Many of the bills’ supporters argue that the legislation saves states money and stops widespread abuse of the welfare system. But the data from Florida suggests the legislation is a solution without a problem. Indeed, according to data obtained by the ACLU of Florida, the program actually cost the Florida more money than it saved.
Chara Fisher-Jackson, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia told Colorlines.com, “Pure and simple, this is part of the war on the poor. When economy is bad it’s easy to target the most vulnerable. What this really does is to degrade someone who needs public assistance.”
Republican state Senator John Albers, who sponsored the bill in Georgia said he was motivated by more than dollars and facts in backing the bill. He says the bill is about personal responsibility.
“This is really an ideology bill,” Albers told Colorlones.com. “In my case, I believe its time for an era of responsibility. The goal is not to have an overwhelming cost savings.”
Civil liberties groups argue that the mass testing of welfare applicants without suspicion of wrongdoing violates the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. It’s on those grounds that the federal judge blocked the Florida law.
Even before Governor Deal silently signed the bill on Monday, The Southern Center for Human Rights made clear its plan to challenge the law in court. “We are disappointed the governor signed the bill, given an almost identical law in Florida has been declared unconstitutional,” Gerry Weber, an SCHR attorney, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The laws raise concerns about the barriers the tests place on all families in need of assistance. Welfare applicants in Georgia will have to pay out of pocket for the drug test. The tests are expected to cost at least $17, though testing sites in Florida cost as much as $50. For poor families, this cost can prove prohibitive.
“What we have is a vulnerable population who are already struggling and then we’re going to target them with additional hurdles. This puts up real barriers for families,” said Pamela Perkins Carn, who runs the Interfaith Children’s Movement, a coalition of Georgia faith groups that opposed the legislation. “We are here to care for our children and to care for each other. This does not do that.”