New bill would require people on welfare to undergo drug testing

2/28/2011 5:47 PM

If a group of upstate New York state lawmakers have their way, anyone applying for welfare benefits would have to submit to a drug test first. It would be a requirement for getting any money from the state. This proposal has just been introduced in the state senate. Its aim? — To keep drug users from using state tax dollars to support their habits. This bill has the backing of 16 republicans and one democrat with the hope that it will be tied to the governors plan to redesign Medicaid.

It’s not a new idea. States across the U.S. are considering similar laws with the whole idea being to save money.

Sixteen years ago Wanda Aceveda found herself in the midst of a family crisis that forced her and her children out of their home. If it hadn’t been for public assistance she says she would not have made it. �Receiving benefits from DHS is a wonderful thing for families that qualify and really need it.�

Acedeva is now the director of programs at Wilson Commencement Park and helps women in transition, many of whom receive public assistance. She is concerned about a bill just introduced in the state senate that would require anyone applying or receiving public assistance to submit to a drug test.

The bill’s chief sponsor is Buffalo Senator George Maziarz. Another sponsor of the bill, Senator Mike Nozzolio told the Syracuse Post Standard, �It’s not a question of evidence. It’s a question of setting standards. If you wish to engage in this activity, don’t expect to have the taxpayers subsidize that behavior.”

This bill is raising concern statewide especially among members of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Kaelyn Rich heads the Genesee Valley Chapter. �The New York Civil Liberties Union is opposed to drug testing of welfare recipients as a condition of their eligibility for benefit.�

Rich says this is not financially, medically or scientifically sound and violates a citizens civil rights. �Seventy-percent of drug users and that doesn’t even include alcohol so the number is probably much higher. Between the ages 18 and 49 are fully employed, fulltime employed. So there’s no evidence that this would help people or address the issue of substance abuse.�

Senator Maziarz says the state would require people who test positive for drugs to enroll in treatment — another cost to the state. Maziarz does admit it’s unlikely the state would save any money in the short term.

What are the chances of this becoming law in New York State?
It�s not expected to pass the democrat-controlled state Assembly and some say it�s not very likely to be successful because the courts have already struck down a similar policy in Michigan saying it violates federal law.


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