Last year, a number of states looked at whether to require welfare recipients to pass drug tests before getting their benefits. This year, the target may be those who apply for state job training programs.
"Far too often graduates of our state programs do not return to the work force because they cannot pass a drug test," West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said in his recent state of the state address . "When this happens we have lost valuable education dollars, we have lost a productive member of our community, and we have lost the opportunity to strengthen the economy."
Tomblin wants to require individuals to pass a drug screening before they enroll in the state's taxpayer-funded workforce training programs. A similar proposal is part of a package of economic initiatives unveiled by Arizona Jan Brewer, a Republican.
Last July, Indiana began to require drug tests of anyone seeking subsidized job training. The state found fewer than 2 percent failed the tests between July 1 and December 31, 2011, according to the latest data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Getting far more attention last year was a Florida law that required all welfare applicants to be tested for controlled substance use, but that law has been challenged in court and is on hold. Missouri and Pennsylvania likewise enacted drug testing for welfare recipients last year, but their laws are not as sweeping as Florida's. Missouri orders screenings for welfare applicants and recipients only if there is reasonable cause to believe they may be using drugs illegally. Pennsylvania requires testing for welfare recipients with previous drug convictions.
This issue also likely will surface this year in Maine, where Republican governor Paul LePage has called for random drug testing for welfare recipients. "I'm going to ask the legislature to allow us to do what every truck driver in the United States of America has to do, take a random test," the Portland Press Herald quoted LePage saying.
Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), says she is concerned that those getting public benefits are being demonized even though they may be unemployed through no fault of their own. She also says drug testing doesn't save money as often touted. CLASP, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, has estimated the cost of catching a drug abuser may run between $20,000 and $77,000 per person.
Nearly all states have some sort of screening process for those who are beneficiaries of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the welfare block grant. Michigan was the first state to implement mandatory drug testing, but the law was found unconstitutional in 2003.
Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Florida Foundation for Government Accountability , an advocacy group, says drug testing for job training applicants may have a better chance to pass legal muster since courts for decades have upheld drug-free workplace requirements. But he predicts that whether it's for job training or welfare, more states will push for drug tests. "You don't want cash assistance to be used to pay for an addiction," Bragdon says.