Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded block grant which provides needy families assistance in finding and obtaining work opportunities. The funds are given to states to distribute. States are allowed some flexibility in how they chose to distribute these funds. There has been a recent movement among states to implement drug testing for applicants and recipients to receive this assistance. Many people see this as a violation of their 4th amendment rights. The ideology behind drug testing is to weed out misuse of funds by recipients, thus alleviating budgetary concerns in hard economic times. Are there other means of easing budgetary issues without potentially violating the 4th amendment rights of the poor? A common stereotype of people receiving public assistance is they are people who are drug addicts, alcoholics, lazy, and don’t want to work. Stereotypes are generalizations made about a certain group of people, good or bad. Stereotypes have a negative affect when they keep us from seeing a person for who they really are negating the individual (Iowa State University Study Abroad Center). According to an opinion poll on Debate.org, seventy percent of people responded “yes” when answering the question, “Should someone receiving welfare be drug tested?” Respondents stated reasons such as “You can’t trust someone to use free money on things they need”, “Help should be given to those who really need it not to people who are too lazy to work…”, and “I don’t believe it is fair … hard-working people have to pay taxes, and the money goes to lazy people who spend our hard earned money on drugs” (Debate.com). These statements are indicative of stereotyping; stereotypes being pervasive within our society (Iowa State University Study Abroad Center). However, not all applicants or recipients needing public assistance fall within the stereotype. Luis Lebron is a 35-year-old Navy veteran, father of a 4-year-old, the sole caregiver for his disabled mother and a student at the University of Central Florida. He just needs some help after having served his country and while trying to finish school and take care of his son and disabled mother (Bloom). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Florida has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lebron due to his refusal to submit to a drug test and relinquish his 4th Amendment rights. Lebron feels that, “It’s insulting and degrading that people think I’m using drugs just because I need a little help to take care of my family while I finish up my education.” The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute). The concept of the 4th amendment is to protect two basic freedoms - the right to privacy and freedom from random search and seizure. (Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute). Twenty-eight states have proposed drug testing public assistance, according the National Conference of State Legislature. Utah has passed legislation requiring applicants to complete a written questionnaire screening for drug use. Georgia passed legislation requiring drug tests for all applicants. The Louisiana House endorsed random drug-testing of 20 percent of the state’s welfare recipients. Ohio is considering a pilot program to test welfare recipients. Florida’s drug testing law required applicants to pay for their tests and then would be reimbursed if the results proved negative (Prah). Federal or state laws that require suspicionless drug testing for eligibility to receive public assistance may be subject to constitutional challenge. Constitutional...
Bibliography: Carley, Frances. Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: A Review of Potential Costs and Savings. Lansing, 2012.
Carpenter, David H. "Constitutional Analysis of Suspicionless Drug Testing Requirements for the Receipt of Governmental Benefits." Report. 2013.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: Recent Proposals and Continuing Controversies . Issue Brief. Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011.
Sulzberger, A. G. "States Adding Drug Test as Hurdle for Welfare." The New York Times (2011): A1.
Whittenburg, Catherine. "Welfare drug-testing yields 2% positive results." The Tampa Tribune (2011).
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