Home Social Justice Drug testing may be required for government assistance

Drug testing may be required for government assistance

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A new bill introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives would require a drug test for those receiving government money and provide drug abuse treatment for state aid recipients who fail the test.

House Bill 298, introduced in August by Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, and Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, would set aside $100,000 for drug abuse treatment. One main area of focus for the bill is a drug testing pilot program for the Ohio Works First Program, which provides financial assistance for low-income families for up to 36 months.

In May 2015, Ohio Works First awarded a total of $21,391,661, averaging about $195.19 per recipient. From May 2014 to May 2015, there was an increase of 2.4 percent needed per recipient across the state, according to a report by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“This program will not be a means to deny benefits, but rather a means to identify those who need treatment,”  said Schaffer in a press release. “It will keep taxpayer dollars out of the hands of drug dealers, protect children, and get folks off of drugs and back on their feet,”

Maag agreed that the main purpose of this legislation is to help those with drug addictions.

If the bill passes, the director of Job and Family Services would be responsible for the new drug testing program. If the director has reasonable cause, he or she could require an individual to undergo a drug test to determine their eligibility for future benefits.

Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, opposes this legislation because he believes it is unconstitutional and based on faulty premises.

In general, the ACLU of Ohio opposes such legislation as a violation of people’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures,” Daniels said in an email. “In states that have passed similar laws, there has been no evidence welfare recipients use drugs at any greater rate than the rest of the population. In addition, we find it curious one segment of the population is singled out for such intrusive testing.”

Thirteen states have passed legislation related to drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants, but data shows that drug tests are expensive and have a relatively small payoff. For example, Utah spent $64,566 from August 2012 through July 2014 to test 9,552 welfare applicants, and 29 positive drug tests were found.

Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism believe welfare reform laws such as HB 298 could lead to positive change, stating reform could increase funding for treatment, new services such as screenings, and better medical and child care. However, Daniels thinks there are better ways than drug tests to treat drug addiction.

“If legislators are serious about battling the serious problem of drug addiction in Ohio, their time would be better spent on fully funding treatment options throughout the state instead of cutting them,” Daniels said. “This would help all Ohioans and would not present the Fourth Amendment problems, practical concerns and misguided tactics all so prevalent in House Bill 298.”

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