Arkansas to Begin Drug Testing for Welfare Applicants
Starting next week, persons in Arkansas who apply for Transitional Employment Assistance (TEA) will be required to undergo a drug screening and possibly drug testing before receiving government benefits.
The program was initiated through Act 1205 of 2015, otherwise known as the Drug Screening and Testing Act of 2015. This act contained a provision for the development of a program which would focus on Arkansas counties bordering states which already had drug screening requirements.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office announced this past week, however, that the state was moving forward with statewide drug screening instead.
J.R. Davis, spokesperson for Gov. Hutchinson explained:
“The statute as it reads, we feel as if we’re following the law. But there were some thoughts from the Attorney General as well as far as targeting one particular county over another.”
As part of the drug screening, applicants will be asked two additional questions in their application: “Are you using illegal drugs?” and “Have you lost your job because of that fact?”
Answering yes to one of those questions leads to referral to the Department of Workforce Services for urine-based drug testing. Refusal of drug testing results in suspension of government benefits for 6 months.
If the drug test is negative, the state would pay for it. Applicants with positive results pay for the test out of their benefits, but would not lose them, however. Rather, they would be directed to a drug treatment program.
Some believe that the policy is generally a bad idea. Indeed, sister programs in other states yield less than 1% of applicants testing positive for drugs.
Ellie Wheeler from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families:
“Programs like this end up being really ineffective at their goal of identifying people with drug-use problems, and they also end up costing the state a lot of money.”
“Just based on what we’ve seen in other states, they end up spending sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars just to find maybe a couple dozen people who end up testing positive for drug use. It just ends not being a really cost-effective method.”
Indeed, estimates put forth by the Department of Workforce Services project that the program could cost around $1.7 million.
Also, other states with similar program have encountered constitutionality problems. Florida, for example, revised their policy from mandatory drug testing to testing based on incriminating drug screens.
Rita Sklar, American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas:
“Poor people should not be forced to give up their Fourth Amendment rights to receive food and shelter.”
I am all for getting drug users into treatment, but the drug screen tool is not a very good method. The only reason why someone would answer “yes” would be to receive help – and yes, in of itself that’s a good thing. However, I would think most applicants would be less than honest, and it’s a very expensive program.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology