McCrory delays DSS drug testing
Gov. Pat McCrory gave social service agencies some relief Wednesday when he decided to delay drug-testing for welfare clients until lawmakers provide the money for it.
Although both houses of the Republican-dominated General Assembly overrode McCrory’s veto of the drug-testing bill on Wednesday, the governor said the law created an “unfunded mandate.” Universal drug testing could cost the state about $2.3 million for the testing alone, according to the N.C. Justice Center.
“Based upon the lawmakers’ vote on drug testing, the executive branch will not take any action on the new law’s implementation until sufficient funds with this unfunded mandate are provided, not only for the Department of Health and Human Services, but also the funding for consistent application across all 100 counties,” McCrory said in a letter to legislators.
Before he vetoed the drug-testing bill last month, McCrory said he agreed with those in other states who claim the program is too costly and is ineffective.
“We are grateful for the governor for taking this stance,” said Guilford County DSS Director Robert Williams. “We don’t have the money to do this program.”
At least eight states have passed similar legislation and laws have been proposed in at least 29 states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Courts have challenged similar laws in Florida and Michigan.
Research shows the proportion of welfare recipients with drug abuse problems is extremely low and the state would have to reimburse the vast majority of DSS clients for their drug tests, according to the Justice Center, the state’s leading progressive advocacy and research organization.
Under the new state law, DSS clients in the Work First program under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would lose benefits for a year if they fail the test. DSS officials said they saw these problems with the program:
• Tests: Should DSS perform the tests on site or use “qualified” drug screeners? Current law requires local social service agencies to screen for substance abusers but no drug testing is required.
• Background: Should the criminal backgrounds reports consider records outside North Carolina? McCrory earlier ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that county social services offices conduct criminal checks for first-time or renewing clients.
Supporters of the bill said people with drug problems should not get money from the state they could use to buy drugs. Critics said the laws unfairly stigmatize poor people and waste taxpayer money. Legal challenges have called the testing a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against an unreasonable search and seizure.
“There are questions on how this will benefit society,” Williams said. “There are questionable outcomes. Some people may say that a drug addict should not get benefits, but do we push these people into a further life of crime? We have to work through this. These people have to eat too and they need shelter and money and services. If we do not provide for them, they will get these things another way.”
Sarah Preston, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, pointed out legal problems.
“Forcing people in need to pay up front for urine tests is not only cruel but will likely deter many low-income families from even applying for assistance. Why the legislature was so adamant about passing this bill is unclear, since all available evidence shows that public aid applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and similar programs in other states have been found to be unconstitutional and fiscally wasteful,” Preston said.
HB 392: The bill also requires the government to run background checks on applicants for EBT cards, or food stamps, through the Food and Nutrition Services program.
Clients: Drug testing would affect more than 46,000 families in Guilford County who receive food and nutrition assistance.