There is no justification for requiring Utahns who are down on their luck and need state assistance to take a drug test. That is, unless somebody, such as legislators who passed the new law, believe the old and unproven stereotype of alcoholic, drug-addicted welfare bums.
People seeking cash help from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program should only have to prove they are eligible based on need. Many of the beneficiaries are parents whose children need food, shelter and clothing. Getting these parents back to work and making sure their families have basic necessities should be the focus of the program, not screening for substance abuse.
Using figures supplied by Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, during the 2012 legislative session to support HB155, about the same percentage of TANF program participants are drug-dependent as in the general U.S. population. Wilson estimated 5 to 10 percent of TANF recipients are drug-dependent, while about 8 percent of Americans use illicit drugs, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Those who receive other government benefits, including Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps and Social Security, don't have to undergo intrusive questioning and testing that Wilson's law requires of those who need help from TANF.
The law requires first-time or returning TANF clients seeking assistance through the Department of Workforce Services to take an online drug-screening survey to determine whether they are likely to abuse drugs. Those who score high will then be forced to undergo a test. A positive result means applicants will be required to get into drug treatment programs and stay clean or lose benefits.
TANF clients who refuse to take drug tests or who fail the tests and refuse treatment or who get treatment and do not stay clean become ineligible for cash assistance for 90 days upon the first occurrence. A second slip-up during that year, and they would lose benefits for a year. While false positives often occur on drug tests, DWS will only pay for the initial test. If a client believes the results are wrong, he or she will have to pay for a second test and be reimbursed only if the result is negative. And, while Medicaid might help pay for treatment for some, taxpayers could end up holding the bag, adding to drug-treatment costs the state already can't cover.
Michigan and Florida passed similar laws, which both were struck down in court as unconstitutional. Utah's law unfairly targets one group. It was a mistake and should be repealed.