Proposed Welfare Drug Testing Bill Tells Poor to Sign Away Rights

By Seth Freed Wessler Mar 05, 2013

A week after a [federal appeals court]( ruled against a Florida law that required welfare recipients to pass a drug test, a Republican congressman reintroduced similar legislation at the federal level. The [bill](, introduced by Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn), would require states to gather urine samples randomly from 20 percent of adults who receive benefits from the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program. "By allowing random drug checks, we can ensure families who receive TANF benefits use them for their intended purpose of feeding, clothing and providing shelter for their children, while cutting the tie that enables drug abuse," Fincher said in a statement yesterday. "It’s not unreasonable to ask folks to stay clean in order to receive federal assistance." The TANF program currently provides some very poor families with an average of less than $400 a month, though many eligible families with children [do not receive ]( checks. Recent [attempts by states]( to impose mandatory drug tests on welfare recipients have revealed the bills are solutions in search of a problem. In Florida, which implemented a drug testing program for several months until a court blocked it, nearly 98 percent of applicants passed the drug test. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling [last week upheld the lower court’s decision]( blocking the Florida law. The decision also applies to a similar bill in Georgia. The panel of judges said Florida failed to prove that drug abuse among welfare recipients is a serious problem. "The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior," the judges wrote. The court’s core problem with the Florida and Georgia laws, however, had more to do with concerns that testing people without their permission and without any actual suspicion of drug use violates the 4th amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Fincher’s bill attempts to sidestep these constitutional concerns by requiring all welfare recipients to sign "a waiver of constitutional rights with respect to testing." "The State may not use any part of the grant to provide assistance to any individual who has not signed a waiver," the language of the bill reads. Said differently, the bill asks poor people to sign away their 4th amendment rights. When Fincher introduced identical legislation in 2011, it failed to clear committee and few think the bill has much of a chance this year.