Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Drug Testing the Poor? Unconstitutional, Bad Public Policy
HB82 - Public Assistance: Drug Testing mandates that all individuals applying for public assistance submit to a drug test, and would deny assistance to the person if the applicant tests positive. The applicant must pay for the test at the time of application (average cost of drug test is $35.) The ACLU of Wyoming strongly opposes HB82 because suspicionless, mandatory drug testing policies are unconstitutional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Our Primary Concerns:
• Mandatory drug testing policies violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government have individualized suspicion before forcing someone to submit to a drug test.
• Requiring drug tests as a condition of eligibility for public assistance is an ineffective an inefficient use of taxpayer money.
• Mandatory drug testing policies disproportionately impact, women, the poor and communities of color.
• People who seek public assistance do not use drugs at a greater rate than the general population.
• Mandatory drug tests are an unabashed attempt by the government to intrude upon people’s privacy.
Being poor is not a crime. Low income people and communities are entitled to the same fundamental constitutional protections that all Americans enjoy. No other state benefit program requires drug testing on application. Mandatory drug testing policies exacerbate existing stigmas associated with receiving public assistance and may deter people in need from applying for aid. Furthermore, these policies disproportionately impact poor communities and women.
Public assistance programs provide basic food and shelter for families. Drug addiction is a disease, and if we want to combat drug addiction and its corresponding societal costs, Wyoming should expand resources for drug treatment programs rather than try and block access to public assistance for struggling families.
In the first 6 weeks of Florida’s now halted drug testing program, the cost to the state of Florida was $1,140 as only 2 individuals out of 40 applicants tested positive – the savings to the state was $240. The Casper Star Tribune editorial board recently wrote that: “In addition to singling out poor people for no reason, other states’ experience with similar programs suggests that if the practice is implemented in Wyoming, it will cost more to implement than it saves.” Clearly, this measure would be an ineffective use of our taxpayer dollars.
HB82 has been filed under the guise of budget cutting and saving the state of Wyoming money; however, the Personal Opportunities With Employment Responsibilities (POWER) program the bill targets has an average statewide monthly enrollment of 347 families. A family of three receives a maximum of $577 per month. According to Chesie Lee, the executive director of the Wyoming Association of Churches, 2/3 of all families enrolled in the POWER program are grandparents who are taking care of their grandchildren. Does Wyoming really want to drug test a Grandma who is doing the best she can for her grandkids?
During a recent hearing on HB82, one Wyoming senator stated that, “We’re tired of being taxed to subsidize wrong and poor decision making of others.” We can only assume that what the senator meant by the “poor decision making of others” is drug use. Unfortunately what this statement fails to recognize is that drug addiction is a disease. If we want to combat drug addiction and its corresponding societal costs, Wyoming should expand resources for drug treatment programs rather than try and block access to public assistance for struggling families.
Wyoming has a minimum availability of treatment options especially for women with children. (Residential treatment beds available for women with children – 19 [statewide] primary treatment beds available for women without children – 23 [statewide] [these figures do not include outpatient treatment or VOA beds as they would not provide us with their numbers]). In other words, drug treatment programs, especially for Wyoming’s women, have limited access, which should be the legislative focus of combating drug use, not violating the privacy of folks who are asking for public assistance.
Another question from last week’s hearing was, “If I have to be drug tested for my job, shouldn’t these people should get drug tested too?” The facts are clearly different when the government is testing a group that it has singled out. But, there is a more important concept here: The 4th Amendment has been horribly crippled in the past 20 years in our country and the use of suspicionless, mandatory drug testing is one of the ways we have rolled back the important right of privacy. The real issue is why anyone’s privacy is being violated without probable cause.
This type of mean-spirited drug testing bill has been around in several other states in recent memory, in one form or another. Fortunately, courts have found these measures to be unconstitutional. In 2003, a federal court in Michigan held that mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of applicants for public assistance violates the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In 2011, a federal judge in Florida blocked a law requiring applicants for public assistance to submit to mandatory drug tests, calling it unconstitutional.
Mandatory drug tests are an unabashed attempt by the government to intrude upon citizen’s privacy. They have been found to be unconstitutional, ineffective and a waste of taxpayer dollars. A recent letter to the editor from a concerned Wyoming citizen said it best: “It’s bad public policy, it’s cruel, and it’s beneath the people of Wyoming.” We most certainly agree.
While we take this issue very seriously, we encourage you to watch this hilarious clip from The Daily Show, where they point out the hypocrisy and unfairness of this issue when they tell Florida legislators, “I think I’m gonna need you to pee in this cup.”