Economy

Maine Implemented An Elaborate New Drug Test For Welfare. Just One Person Flunked.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Joel Page

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R)

Maine began screening applicants to its welfare program in April, requiring those with past drug felony convictions to take a drug test. But despite spending $624 on the program, just one person has tested positive so far, the Associated Press reports.

Only 15 applicants were referred to testing between April and June, and of those, 13 were blocked from receiving benefits because they didn’t show up for either the initial screening or the follow up drug test.

There could be many reasons those recipients couldn’t make it. Hamm said recipients choose the day and time for the test, which can be taken at 50 laboratory sites across the state. But access to those sites can still be difficult. Gov. Paul LePage (R) decided to move the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) from downtown Portland to South Portland, making it an 80-minute round-trip, $3 journey away from the center of the city. Applicants may also not be able to secure child care or may object to the drug tests as an invasion of their privacy. Bethany Hamm, director of DHHS’s Office for Family Independence, told the Associated Press that the state will pay for travel costs for the tests and can also reschedule them.

Hamm also said that her office estimates 100 welfare recipients out of the state’s total of 5,700 have prior convictions and will eventually be screened.

They may not get many more positive tests, however. Seven other states have active drug testing programs for their welfare programs, but six have found positive drug test rates of below 1 percent, while all are below the national drug use rate of 9.4 percent. They had also collectively spent nearly $1 million to administer them as of earlier this year.

LePage has been waging a war on the poor for some time, trying to root out what he sees as fraud in welfare programs. He released a report on transactions at bars, sports bars, and strip clubs made with welfare benefit cards that he claimed showed a widespread problem but in reality showed these purchases made up less than one percent of all purchases and ATM withdrawals. He released another report after that, costing the state nearly $1 million, that didn’t present any new recommendations. Still, he followed them up with a slew of “tough love” reform proposals for the state’s welfare program, including bans on using cards at tobacco, liquor, gambling, and bail places, adding a work search requirement for eligibility, and eliminating a job training program for parents pursuing college degrees. He also kicked thousands of people off of food stamps by reinstituting tougher eligibility rules.

States have come up with other ways to restrict welfare benefits, however. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has been fighting with the federal government over his proposal to drug test food stamp applicants. Kansas and Arizona imposed lifetime limits on welfare benefits, with the latter cutting people off after just 12 months. And Wisconsin and Maine have also tried to restrict what food stamp recipients can buy with their benefit cards despite needing permission from the federal government to do so and no actual standards existing as to what constitutes junk food.