A bill that would require all welfare recipients to pass a drug screening has been submitted to the U.S. Congress. Tennessee republican Rep. Stephen Fincher, sponsor of the Welfare Integrity Act of 2013, says his plan would eliminate the "safety net" he says currently enables drug users.
If passed, the bill would require states to drug test people who apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program which has a budget of nearly $16 billion.
Bills like this have been popping up at the state-level for years now without much success. Florida and Georgia have been the high-profile cases, and just last month a federal appeals court said the Florida tests openly violate people's Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizures. A similar decision was made against Michigan in 2003.
But Fincher's bill steps around that by requiring all assistance applications sign a waiver forfeiting their Fourth Amendment rights and allowing them to be randomly drug tested in order to receive money. Basically, he wants to hold your federal assistance ransom in exchange for your rights.
Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.
"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 press release."It's not unreasonable to ask folks to stay clean in order to receive federal assistance."
A positive test would mean a denial of assistance for things like rent and power bills. People convicted of drug-related crimes would also be shut out of the system. Three strikes (convictions or tests) will permanently ban someone from assistance. States that opt out of the proposal would face a ten percent reduction in their family assistance grants each year.
The programs have proven to be nothing more than political grandstanding on the part of republicans. Instead of saving money, as the politicians promise, they end up wasting taxdollars. Data from Florida showed that out of 4,086 people tested in Florida in 2011 only 2.6 percent tested positive - and those were mostly for marijuana use. Florida officials also lost money when as many as 40 people scheduled tests but later cancelled. That cost taxpayers about $118,140 in total to reimburse people for the tests - resulting in a loss of $45,780 for the program alone.
"That's not counting attorneys and court fees and the thousands of hours of staff time it took to implement this policy," ACLU spokesman Derek Newton told the Miami Herald last year.
Thankfully, most people see the bill as the load of crap that it is. A similar piece of legislation from Fincher didn't even make it out of committee in 2011. Now, we're not saying it should pass - but if it were to move through this time, we hope someone amends the bill to require that all legislators be drug tested before they receive their taxpayer-funded paychecks. Fair is fair, right?