Some On Welfare Welcome Drug Tests 

Some On Welfare Welcome Drug Tests 
Posted by FoM on December 20, 1999 at 12:10:33 PT
By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times
Source: Boston Globe
Michigan's plan to test all welfare applicants for drugs has been called a vicious assault on their constitutional rights, a cruel case of treating the poor like criminals simply because they are poor. To which many of those very same poor reply: So?
To some recipients, the plan makes a whole lot of sense and is in fact long overdue.Even as the American Civil Liberties Union prepares to take Michigan to court this month in an effort to block the drug tests, many of the men and women who rely on welfare say it's about time the government held recipients responsible for what they do with the money. They've seen too many people trade food stamps for crack or blow welfare checks on booze, while babies at home go hungry. It sickens them. So they welcome Michigan's drive to be the first state in the nation to require urine tests of all new welfare applicants and a random number of those receiving aid as well.Under Michigan's plan, those refusing to comply will be denied benefits. Those testing positive must enter treatment in a program selected and funded by the state to keep receiving government checks.That's fine with Sophia Bowman, 31, who works part time with the mentally impaired but counts on welfare to help support her two daughters. ''They should do random drug screens, like they do on the job,'' she said. ''It's only fair.''Recalling the days when it took all her will to buy a few groceries for her seven children before spending every cent of her welfare cash on heroin, Pam Nelson, 37, had to agree: ''At first I got defensive when I heard about the tests,'' she said. ''But you've got to stop the circle of madness.'' She says she has been clean for five years.Michigan's program has infuriated welfare advocates across the nation. The ACLU has already filed suit on behalf of two women who deemed urine tests a humiliating invasion of their privacy.And Victoria A. Roberts, a Michigan judge, last month blocked the program, calling it ''very likely unconstitutional'' because it subjects a broad class of people to unreasonable searches without cause. Opponents of the drug tests contend that there are many less invasive - and more effective - ways of nudging substance abusers into treatment programs.At least two dozen states use clinical observation or diagnostic questionnaires to identify the welfare applicants most likely to be abusing drugs or alcohol.Although questionnaires may seem a dubious way to find addicts - there's nothing to stop a respondent from lying - policy analysts say they really do work.Urine tests catch only those who have used cocaine, heroin or amphetamines within the last few days, or marijuana within the last several weeks. And they don't screen at all for alcohol abuse.The questionnaires, in contrast, probe suspicious patterns of behavior. They don't ask straight out: Are you an addict? Instead, they seek to define potential substance abuse with questions such as: Have friends urged you to cut down on your drinking?Surprisingly, perhaps, such questions tend to elicit honest answers - and to give a better picture of the scope of any problem than a onetime urine test, experts contend. Michigan officials have said they did not consider other methods of drug screening but settled immediately on urine tests as the most direct and practical approach - and the one used most often in the private sector.Michigan's constant references to the private sector - where many employers mandate drug tests - outrage the ACLU and other critics.In the private sector, they argue, people have a choice: If they don't like the idea of drug tests, they can look for a job that doesn't require them.But welfare applicants are ''essentially a captive audience,'' Judge Roberts ruled. Desperate for money to feed their families, they have nowhere to turn but the government - and thus are forced to submit to a test that invades privacy and degrades honor by implying they use illegal drugs.Poor people do have a choice, Michigan Governor John Engler insists: If they don't like the drug tests, ''there's no requirement that they come in and apply for welfare.''If people are clean, they shouldn't object to proving it, Engler reasons. If they're not, they should welcome treatment ''rather than asking the people who are working and paying taxes ... to support their habit.''Published: December 20, 1999 Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company. Related Articles & Web Site:American Civil Liberties Union Support for Drug Tests on Welfare App.-12/18/99 Blocks Drug-Testing of Welfare Recipients - 11/10/99 Tests Welfare Recipients for Drugs - 11/04/99
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