Republican lawmakers across the country are pushing the marginalization of low-income Americans by insisting they take a drug test before receiving federal aid. Joining Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri, Maine, and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on the bandwagon, Ohio GOP state Sen. Tim Schaffer wants to break “the cycle of drug-induced poverty” with a bill forcing welfare recipients to pay for and pass a drug test first. After all, it’s “the compassionate thing to do,” he says:
“Implementing this bill is the compassionate thing to do. It will end the cycle of poverty by referring drug users to treatment and providing safety for children,” he told a Senate committee considering Senate Bill 69.As written, the applicant would pay for the test, which Schaffer said can cost $15 to $35.The bill initially would establish pilot programs in three counties, scaled back from his earlier proposal and another introduced by a Republican colleague that would have implemented drug-testing statewide immediately.
Under the bill, Ohioans who fail the drug test would be ineligible to receive cash assistance for one year and would have to complete treatment through local alcohol-and drug-addiction services. The first time Ohio Republicans pushed this idea, a Democratic legislator shot back with a proposal to test state lawmakers and statewide officeholders. While Schaffer readily admits there is no data to support the need for such tests, he insists “taxpayers should not be paying for people’s illegal drug use.”
But what lawmakers definitely should not do is introduce measures that flout the constitution. UCLA Professor Adam Winkler notes that the Supreme Court has only upheld “suspicion-less” searches like random drug testing in very limited circumstances, like in “high-risk public safety environments.” Such generic circumstances like testing federal aid recipients is seen as government overreach. Indeed, courts have rejected policies just like this one again and again.