NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee authorities are preparing to test welfare recipients for drug abuse.
The legislature passed a bill requiring it and Gov. Bill Haslam signed it nearly a year ago. The statute gives the Department of Human Services until July 1, 2014, to begin screening people receiving welfare for illicit drug use.
The Tennessean reported the agency might begin with a diagnostic quiz that could ask if assistance recipients have ever abused more than one drug at a time or if they felt bad after abusing drugs. Depending on the answers, a urine screening could be required.
The newspaper said preparations continue, despite a judge in Florida stopping a similar plan over constitutional issues. Also, Arizona authorities, who have been drug-checking welfare recipients for three years, say they have caught just one offender.
“I don’t rule out the possibility that we’ve captured two idiots,” said Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh, a former police detective who sponsored the legislation there. “If I was going to do it again, I would attempt to do a cross-check of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rolls and records of drug arrests, but based on our budget, I don’t want to create that expense.”
Kavanagh said he wished Tennessee luck and said perhaps Arizona could learn from what happens in Tennessee.
There are about 51,000 Tennessee families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The most recent report from DHS said the cash payment averages $164 a month.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, was a sponsor of Tennessee’s statute. Campfield said he will consider the law a success if it only reduces the number of applicants because they know they will be tested.
Pam McMichael of the Highlander Research and Education Center said the law won’t make neighborhoods safer or change stigmas.
“It’s an extension of an already unsuccessful war on drugs,” McMichael said.
Rachel Sheffield of the Heritage Foundation said it’s fair to require specific behavior from people getting public assistance.
“They have attitudes or habits that make them less likely to seek employment,” Sheffield said. “If it were going into their homes and drug testing them, that would be different.”