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Lawmakers debate drug testing for welfare recipients

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drugtestOLYMPIA — There’s a movement by lawmakers in Olympia to drug test welfare recipients before they receive their money.

There are about 40,000 families on welfare here in Washington, collecting roughly $15 million year. Supporters of drug testing bill proposed in the Washington state Senate said they are trying to add some accountability to the system.

“We shouldn’t be using public money to support illegal drug habits,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, the prime sponsor of the bill.  “Many citizens have said this to me, why should I have to take a drug test to keep my job, when folks that don’t even have a job get money for free from the government, and they don’t have to take one?”

The state’s average welfare benefit, called TANF – Temporary Aid to Needy Families – is $375 per month.  Under this proposal, if a caseworker suspects a drug problem, recipients are tested. If the result is positive, they would lose that money – unless they went to treatment and stayed clean.

“If we are going to get these people back to work, they’re not going to be able to retain or to get a job if they have a substance abuse problem,” said Jan Angel,R-Port Orchard, a strong supporter of the measure.

State Senator Jeannie Darneille argues the bill is unfair to those are who are down on their luck and struggling to get by.

“We’re helping families to cross that bridge into self-sufficiency,” she said.  “To imply that they are breaking the law, imply that they are scamming the system, imply that they are not taking care of their children, this is just wrongheadedness.”

Darneille argues the bill violates rights.

“People will self-select out of a program for a variety of reasons if they feel like their civil liberties are at risk,” she said.  “Even if they are poor, their civil liberties mean something to them.”

A hearing Thursday focused on the scope of the drug problem among welfare recipients. Opponents of testing sai it’s just a small fraction, less than 1%, and a system is already in place to help them.

“It is in fact a much smaller percentage of the TANF population that shows chemical dependency problems than the general population,” said Bob Cooper of the Washington Defender Association.

Benton, however, disagrees.

“The propensity of drug abuse increases when people are experiencing desperate times,” he said.  “I think that’s a common sense logical conclusion.”

Currently, there are seven states that require drug testing of welfare recipients.

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  • Block Watcher

    Tobacco and alcohol are two big drug problems. Will they test for those substances and how will the new law regarding marijuana fit into this situation?

    • S_Hunter

      Tobacco? alcohol yes, but Tobacco? And marijuana is definitely going to be a BIG debate. I still don't want my tax dollars going to someone's weed habit.

  • johny b

    how about every one in the USA has to take a drug test every month period working or not working and you get caught doing drugs your not eligible for any assistance your fired, marijuana is legal now i would understand if it was no,t but its no different than beer or cigarettes they are all drugs no higher or lower just DRUGS. your either clean as a whistle or you do some form of drugs in one way or another most people in the world are on drugs your going to create more people in poverty over smoking some weed, im sure that will save the economy, this debate is such bs…

    • Amy Carter

      Drugs such as marijuana are in fact very different from alcohol and tobacco. Being marijuana is illegal and alcohol and tobacco are not. Federal law trumps state law therefore, marijuana is not legal acording to Washington. How, in any way, is this argument “bs” if it will 1) Enforce the LAW 2) Save the government money 3) Not make hardworking people American people to pay for those whom are unmotivated to participate in illegal drugs.
      This idea is not a proposal to SAVE the economy either. It is simply a way to weed out the people whom are participating in illegal drug use.

    • Chris Edens

      Agreed. Most of these drug tests are witch hunts for MJ smokers. It is so unfair that a person can drink themselves to blindness, go out and kill a bus load of people then come to work the next day and will pass any of these stupid drug tests. Yet, someone can smoke a joint 3 days ago and test positive and they act like you just left the company bathroom smoking a joint.

      BUT, if they are going to force me to do random UI's to keep my job being a person who is self-sufficient, excellent employee with no problems then why should those getting free money off the system get anything less.

      I would like to see drug tests removed completely. They are a violation of privacy and civil rights, not to mention these testing companies are making tons of money off your samples that you are forced to give consent to in order to keep your job. Employers are not informing their employees to what they sign away when they take the tests and there is no legal body monitoring it for ethical violations. I would never work for an employer that supports randomly fishing their employees for drugs without cause.

  • Amy Carter

    I agree 100 percent. If i am expected to be drug free to retain my job, I should’nt be funding people’s drug addictions. This process being enforced in all states in the US would lead to people who are milking the system to be removed.

  • Guest

    It shouldn't be who people think are doing drugs. EVERYONE on welfare should have to take a drug test and it should be a random drug test.

  • sexologyblog

    This DOES NOT save money! Did you read the part where in states that jave done this, less than 1% tested positive? If such a small fraction of welfare recipients use drugs, this COSTS taxpayer money. And I don’t want my tax dollars going to something that isn’t actually solvinh anything except making white, upper-middle class men feel better about a barely existant problem.

    • Chris Edens

      Oh no, it's those white devils again!

      I could take a page from your book and say you want to not have testing to keep the black drug dealers making loads of tax free cash.

  • Kirstin

    Some people need drugs to help them with their health problems, but others do not. I think everyone on welfare should be drug tested, and if tested positive then they should find out if the drugs are helping their health or not. Drug abusers are using this to buy more drugs, and that's not what this is for. If tested positive, and the drugs aren't for health issues, we should help these people to get counseling. If tested negative, all applicants should apply to jobs first, and if denied; then they should be accepted for welfare. The drug tests would be very expensive, but hey, if it helps, then let's do it. — This is just an opinion on what we should do to stop giving our money to those who use it for drugs. I'm not saying that everyone on welfare is on drugs, but those who are shouldn't be given anything to just go buy more drugs.

  • R. Florio

    I for one am a recovering addict and am all for testing. I have a son and his girlfriend that are parents to my grand daughter and the mother is a junkie, and my son has a seasonal job, and when not working, is constantly using. They both need something to deter their use. It makes me sick, thinking my grand daughter has 2 strikes against her when both parents won't give up the junk. I don't think they deserve welfare monies when on junk. I would gladly take care of my grand daughter if it came to that. Pass the dang bill!

  • CDP

    If someone has a substance abuse problem they probably aren't going to willingly get tested knowing that they are going to test positive and lose any chance at benefits, or have to go into treatment when they themselves are ready to look at their problem. Not everyone on welfare is using some form of substance (i.e. alcohol, pills, illegal drugs) but it is much larger than 1%. Coming from someone in the substance abuse field, something needs to change, forcing someones hand to get clean to keep their benefits will help some users.