Georgia Moves to Require Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients, Faces Lawsuit

In 2010, the state of Florida successfully passed legislation requiring welfare recipients to submit to a drug test in order to continue receiving governmental assistance.  Since then, the state has decreased the number of applicants by 48 percent and saved just under two million dollars.  It is only a matter of time before more states catch onto this age of new fiscal restraints.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has modeled this Florida law in his state.  In a press release from his office on Monday, Governor Deal praised Florida for their success and defended the law in his state saying, “This program is intended as a safety net, and this requirement guarantees that the benefits are used for their intended purposes – to care for children and assist with job preparation.”

The legislation known as “HB 861” stipulates that all applicants who fail a drug test won’t be able to receive state benefits for a specified amount of time.  The amount of time is determinate on how many previous suspensions the applicant has received due to failed drug tests.  It also stipulates that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) applicants would also have to pay for their own drug test, which is estimated to run around $17.

The children of these individuals are not left out in the cold, however.  Parents can still receive benefits for their children if they have failed a drug test. The law provides that a parent must designate a surrogate payee that will receive the money and distribute it for the needs of a child.

This is not the final word on HB 861 though. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, several groups, including the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) located in Atlanta and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have both expressed dissatisfaction with the law. The Southern Center for Human Rights was gearing up to challenge HB 861 in court as Governor Deal was signing it into law.  The SCHR said that they will not file suit, however, until Georgia begins to test TANF recipients.

The ACLU has also voiced discontent with the law citing Fourth Amendment concerns of unreasonable searches.  Supporters of the law say that it will save the state vital revenue and lead to more personal responsibility for those receiving governmental assistance.

Governor Deal signed the bill into law despite the legal challenges to Florida’s similar legislation. Gerry Weber, an attorney for SCHR, said, “We are disappointed the governor signed the bill, given an almost identical law in Florida has been declared unconstitutional.”  The bill made final passage on March 29th, the last day of the legislative year.  Those supporting the law in the Georgia legislator say that they are confident that the law will stand in court.

This law and the emergence of several others just like it are indicative of a move toward more personal responsibility for those on governmental assistance and the state tightening the belt during hard financial times.  It is not the state’s responsibility to fund people’s drug habits. And as for the risk to Fourth Amendment rights, it seems like a stretch at best.

People should expect to lose a degree of their personal privacy when they are asking to be taken care of on the public dime.  The Fourth Amendment argument doesn’t hold much water when you also consider that most work places require one to submit to drug tests.  If people make themselves subjects to the government, then they can and should be subject to different rules.

This is a case of certain states saying enough is enough.  Georgia lawmakers estimate that 800 of the 19,000 TANF recipients will fail their drug tests.  That is roughly four percent of those receiving such benefits.  This should be enough to outrage those whose taxes go to paying the TANF benefits and should cause all states to further examine how this “assistance” is disbursed.

Mark Mayberry | University of Tennessee at Chattanooga | Chattanooga, Tennessee | @MarkMayberry86

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9 Responses

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  1. Brittney
    Apr 20, 2012 - 07:25 PM

    Wow… Michelle this data is correct. By implementing the bill the state did save near 2 million dollars. After court costs and law suites I am sure most if not all of that money is gone, but initially the bill saved the state money. The statements in the article above are intended to get people thinking about how many people wont apply or wont get govt. assistance because they cant test clean. It is intended to get tax payers on board with the bill because I surely don’t want to pay for someones drug habits. I for one applaud the bill because I’ve known people who have abused the system, and it infuriates me. I work hard for my income and when my taxes are taken to pay for someone who doesnt really need the help (if youre using drugs you have money to buy food or pay bills) it pisses me off. Especially when I struggle to pay my bills and feed my family on what little I have left.

    • Chelle
      Apr 20, 2012 - 08:07 PM

      So you’re supporting a bill that’s modeled exactly after a FL law that costed the state ie tax payers ie people like you money because it intially saved money?

      But hey, if you can get on board with a law thats going to cost you money in the long run, go right ahead. I’d rather pay for someone’s food than have to reimbrust them for negative drug tests, settle couts costs and then pay their food.

  2. Michelle
    Apr 19, 2012 - 01:51 AM

    “In 2010, the state of Florida successfully passed legislation requiring welfare recipients to submit to a drug test in order to continue receiving governmental assistance. Since then, the state has decreased the number of applicants by 48 percent and saved just under two million dollars. It is only a matter of time before more states catch onto this age of new fiscal restraints.”

    Everything in this statement is wrong:

    • Mark Mayberry
      Apr 19, 2012 - 02:25 AM

      Michelle I am sorry you feel this way but these are legit stats and I will be happy to supply you with the press release from the office of the Governor of Georgia if you would like to see them.

      • Michelle
        Apr 19, 2012 - 04:17 AM

        That would of been nice and should of been included in your article. Regardless, I googled and found it. Since the press release doesn’t site where they found their stats, I’m not sure how they’re “legit.” I googled some more and it appears the numbers in the GA press release come from the first quarter of the FL bill being in process – in 2011. The numbers in the linked article come from 2012, once all the law suits, adminstrative costs, reinbrustments, etc have been compiled.

      • Mark Mayberry
        Apr 19, 2012 - 01:23 PM

        I do reference the press release in the article and I am sure that I could go on a Google marathon and find a site to tell me the sky is green but it doesn’t make it so. The article that you have referenced does not even specify where they received their stats from and only says they obtained the stats from a “group” who got them from the state. But since its in the NYTimes it must be true. Right? Come on is this the best you can do. I urge you next time you call a persons credibility into question you have a better source then “the NY Times attained this from a group who says they got it from the state.”

      • Michelle
        Apr 19, 2012 - 03:44 PM

        When I said you should of included the press release, I ment link to it, not reference it.

        Regardless, the date in the press release is old. The fact that GA is willing to waste money on something that wasn’t even implimented in FL successfully says. (Esp since the law is based on the FL one.)

        I’m all for ways on decreasing the number of recipents but I’m not in favor of states wasting tax payer dollars on laws that haven’t even been proved affective and were stopped over constitutional reasons.

        Anyways, it seems that its your press release containing out of date data with no source vs the NY Times up to the moment data. The idea that you’re suggesting that this article wasn’t fully fact checked is interesting. I guess we’ll see if FL requests a correction.

      • Mark Mayberry
        Apr 19, 2012 - 05:11 PM

        Michelle I could not include a link to the press release because I do not have one. I was given the physical press release via email. Also you refer to the press release as being old. This press release was disseminated this week. It was dated April 16, 2012. This article was written on the 17th and published on the 18th. The press release is not old, unless by old you mean Monday. The NYTimes doesn’t exactly have a track record of caring about facts and they are well known to manipulate them to fit their stories. FLorida will not send out a retraction notice either because these facts are all above board. Why would the Governor’s Office send out bad information, when they know it could easily be disproven?

      • Michelle
        Apr 19, 2012 - 08:13 PM

        I said the data was old (typo as date), which I stated in my other comments as well.

        Why would the GA press release include correct but out of data that supports a law they want to push and have been working on for a while? The mind does wonder.

        “FLorida will not send out a retraction notice either because these facts are all above board”

        Wait, FL won’t request a correction on a NY Times article that has gone national because the data in the NY Times article is correct? Because that’s what I said would happen if the NY Times was wrong.

        There have been other articles talking about the failure of the FL law before the NY Times article.

        Regardless, the information in the GA press release was right at one point but new data release reflects thats its not. So I guess the question is why would the GA law include dated data when there is, one would think, up to date data on what the actual costs are? Could it be because a press release stating that “this law was a failure in FL but hopefully not here! Because we spent a lot of time and tax dollars on it!” would not go over well?

        Also, the press release is linked on the GA govener’s main site.

        So in sum, when using other sources to check out a piece that does not list its sources, it appears that the GA press release is right if you pay attention only to the first quarter returns and not the aftermath. (Which you have to use if you’re trying to calculate the cost of a law that will no doubt get caught up in court like the one it was modeled on. $2 million sounds great but if quickly disappears into a negative number within a year, than the law failed to save money.)

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