Another state decides to drug test the downtrodden

Add one more to the ranks of states that are slated to start drug testing recipients of public assistance. A South Carolina Senate panel has approved legislation that would drug test applicants for unemployment benefits and require them to do at least 16 hours a week of community service.

A Mississippi state senator is also trying to fast track legislation introduced this week that would require drug testing for welfare and unemployment programs. The law is modeled on Florida’s program to drug test welfare applicants, which was blocked by a federal judge last year and is in the process of being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Legislators from South Carolina acknowledge that both of the proposed requirements on people who are eligible to collect unemployment benefits would likely violate federal law. Yet, they’re pushing the bill forward.

In our previous article on the subject, commenter Sherry Stroupe correctly pointed out that 1,600 people declined to take the drug test in Florida during the three and a half months that the program was running. The state welfare program gets about 1,000 to 1,500 people applying a month, so 1,600 less people is more than a month’s worth of applicants.

We can’t be sure how many of those people declined testing because they were in fact drug addicts. Single father and military veteran Luis Lebron who is the  plaintiff in the case against the state said he refused for ethical reasons.

I still wonder how much sense it makes to punish the children of drug addicted parents. And I doubt people would be on board with drug testing every adult who receives a mortgage interest tax deduction. According to the Center for American Progress and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, families making more than $250,000 a year are getting more from the state for their mortgage interest tax deduction than an Illinois family of three would receive in a year on welfare. Since poor people haven’t been shown to use drugs at higher rates than rich people, drug testing for a mortgage tax deduction might also save us quite a bit of money.

But Mississippi Senator Michael Watson, who proposed the state’s legislation, said the program is worth it even if it doesn’t save money.

“It’s a sensitive and an emotional topic, but you have to look at it logically,” Watson said. “Even if you break even, it’s well worth it in my opinion.”

So, maybe my initial question was moot. But the fact remains that drug testing isn’t a topic that’s going away. We’ll have to see what the courts decide as these cases are heard.

© Community Renewal Society 2011


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    Thanks for the shoutout! For the record, I'm not really for or against drug testing for welfare. It's difficult for drug users to obtain and retain employment due to employer drug screening so I doubt that this policy is encouraging anyone's swift return to the workforce. Coalmining jobs start at about $18/hour and they can't fill 1000 positions in WV because so many people fail the drug tests ( The more likely scenario is that the welfare drug testing policy will force drug users to result to resort to illicit activities to make money (i.e. drug dealing, prostitution, theft, etc) which will result in higher law enforcement costs to taxpayers. Regarding your article: A couple of differences I see between drug testing for the mortgage interest tax deduction versus drug testing for welfare are as follows: 1) The mortgage interest deduction is from income taxes already paid by the homeowner. It is not a credit, so the deduction cannot exceed the amount of taxes the homeowner actually paid for that year. Welfare is taken from funds provided by the general public. 2) The mortgage interest tax deduction is an incentive to homeownership which is associated with other types of taxes being collected which offset the income tax deduction (i.e. property tax, capital gains, sales tax, etc.).

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