It may be even harder for many Americans to get welfare as 23 states have, or are considering, enforcing stricter laws that would require welfare recipients to take drug tests. Yet, experts say that African-Americans are more likely to be impacted by these laws since they are vulnerable to welfare sanctions and have greater problems with illegal drug use.
If the states considering it pass this mandate, officials will force people who they “reasonably” believe are using illegal drugs to take drug tests before receiving their benefits.
Some states are already enforcing the mandate in different capacities.
For example, a Florida law requires drug tests for all welfare applicants, while Arizona and Missouri are only testing people based on the suspicions of welfare authorities.
Furthermore, Colorado state representative Jerry Sonnenberg is sponsoring a bill that would make those who apply for Colorado’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program pay for and pass a drug test before getting government assistance.
“If you have enough money to be able to buy drugs, then you don’t need the public assistance,” he told USA Today. “I don’t want tax dollars spent on drugs.”
According to Sonnenberg, those who pass the $8 to $12 test will be reimbursed, however, those who fail it will have to get clean and reapply.
Blacks may be particularly negatively impacted by these for several reasons.
For example, in 2009, researchers determined how and why race influences sanctioning under welfare reform and found that African-Americans are significantly more likely to be sanctioned by the welfare system than whites. They also found that blacks were more vulnerable to welfare sanctions when they had a history of being sanctioned in the past.
In addition to this research, blacks may also be more impacted by these welfare changes since they are more likely to use illegal drugs. In 2010, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 9.5 percent of black adults use illegal drugs, compared to the 7.9 percent national average.
Although sponsors and supporters of the drug testing laws believe that they will help stop substance abuse and welfare fraud crimes, many oppose the changes and are currently fighting some states that have already passed similar mandates. For example, “the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) ”:http://content.usatoday.com/topics/topic/Organizations/Non-profits,+Activist+Groups/American+Civil+Liberties+Unionof Florida is currently fighting a law that was passed there last year, which requires welfare recipients to be drug tested.
Those who oppose the laws, like attorney Jason Williamson, say that they stigmatize people and may trick the government to even subject college students, veterans, and contractors to required drug testing or other screenings.
“This exemplifies the extent to which folks are willing to scapegoat poor people when it suits political interests,” Williamson told USA Today. “Subjecting people who are receiving public benefits to government intrusion, and the singling out of poor people in this country under the guise of saving money is worrisome to us.”
In addition, he added that that the proposed laws inaccurately suggest that people on welfare use drugs more than others.
In Florida, for example, just 2 percent of those receiving state assistance since the drug testing law went into effect tested positive last year, meaning the state had to reimburse the other 98 percent of those taking the tests. A federal judge blocked Florida’s law in October 2011, while considering whether the law violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against illegal searches and seizures.
Although many of the 23 states have already enforced the laws on drug testing, they may enact other laws to make it even harder for people to receive welfare.
For example, Ohio and Tennessee may soon restrict or eliminate eligibility for those convicted of drug felonies, while North Carolina and New Jersey may require people to perform community service in order to receive government help.