Drug Testing for the Poor? Welcome to the New Welfare State

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 19 | Posted Apr. 20, 2011

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State Sen. Richard Alloway doesn’t see the big deal with his welfare-reform bill.

“If we’re giving someone a free taxpayer check, we should be able to ask for something in return,” says the Republican, who’s proposing mandatory drug testing for recipients of public funds.

Which is where the big deal comes in. This bipartisan legislation doesn’t sit too well with the slew of health and law organizations that officially oppose welfare drug testing. And Alloway has been under the gun ever since.

“I’m not sure how that’s a violation of someone’s rights,” says Alloway, who represents Adams, Franklin and York counties. It’s just a condition of getting the welfare check.”

Alloway and 15 Republican and Democrat lawmakers created SB 719 to chip away at the state’s policy of what state Department of Welfare head Gary Alexander has called “when in doubt, hand it out.” The lawmakers’ goal is to make sure those receiving public funds aren’t spending taxpayers’ money on anything but the bare necessities.

Alloway’s bill still has a few holes, about which he and his colleagues are upfront: The lawmakers have yet to decide which drugs to test for and how the testing will be conducted (blood, urine, hair, etc.) And it’s unclear what will happen to the families if the household leader tests positive for drugs and is sent to rehabilitation (Alloway says he would consider continuing payments to families of those being rehabilitated). Oh, and there’s no price tag. Because of that, no one knows if the program would end up costing more than the $39.5 million per year the 288,000 welfare recipients in Pennsylvania currently collect (about $136 per month, per person, on average). When asked about this, Alloway says, “Does it matter if it costs more in that scenario? This is long-term. If we’re helping people get their lives straight, get off drugs and become a better member of society, it’ll cost less in the long run, anyway.”

Here’s what has been solidified in the bill: It would affect those between the ages of 18-65; a random sampling of 5 percent of welfare recipients throughout the state would be subjected to tests every six months; and, according to Alloway, those who fail would be put in a drug rehabilitation program run through the Dept. of Welfare.

But even after the bill’s specifics are hammered out, it will face a tough climb to Corbett’s desk. At least 15 organizations oppose welfare drug testing, including National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, which has successfully challenged similar legislation in the past.

“Conducting a drug test is a search,” says Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is ready to strike if and when Alloway’s bill is passed. “So, for the government to do that, they must have some suspicion. To implement a blanket testing program, that’s going to have some Constitutional problems.”

Some of those who’ve turned to public funds see something more sinister in the prospect of peeing in a cup for Uncle Sam.

“Just because I’m poor doesn’t mean I’m a drug addict,” says Tara Colon, 35, of Kensington. “And a drug addict’s not poor because she’s on drugs. There are plenty of rich drug addicts, that has nothing to do with poverty, it has to do with someone’s emotional state.”

Colon, a mom of four, has been on and off public assistance for the last 15 years. During that time, she says she’s worked in more than 10 blue-collar industries—sometimes several at the same time—but none has provided her a wage high enough to raise her family.

“I’m not saying there aren’t poor folks that are into drugs,” says Colon, who gets by with the help of food stamps, medical and childcare services from the state. “But there are just as many folks well off that are into drugs. I think [testing is] uncalled-for and unwarranted … People have worked their entire lives, have paid taxes, have had children die at war, you’re going to have them take a drug test?”

“That would be harsh, I think,” says Thomas Young, a former addict who now prefers to go by Muhammad. “You’re only going to test the poor, the ones who are trying to make the best of a bad situation?”

Muhammad, who spent a good portion of his life in and out of rehabilitation centers and prison, lives at the New Jerusalem Laura Recovery House on Norris Street in North Philadelphia and is celebrating a year clean this week.

But Alloway maintains that his intentions are pure.

“I’m not all hardcore, you know, ‘Throw them on the streets, they’re no good,’” says Alloway. “That’s not who I am. I recognize a drug addiction for what it is. I just want to help people do better in life, get them the job skills they need to make an impact on society … Sure, this bill is carrot and stick, but I want it to be more carrot.”

If the conservative legislature in Harrisburg has its way, this is just a taste of the domineering moment to turn Pennsylvania welfare reform on its head.

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Comments 1 - 19 of 19
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 20, 2011 at 09:49AM

“Here we go! The Republicans are nickle n dimening on the poor while defending so aggressively their tax cuts.. I bet Mr Alloway didn't think about working on a bill that will make his billionaire buddies pay taxes on their wealth... But noooooo .. The rich need all of their money right??? Shall we go around and run drug tests on rich peole?? We WOULD uncover the truth !!! Some of these wealthy business man run corporations while they are high on cocaine, heroine and all kind of pills! Which can't possibly be good for the economy ... Oh but they would never let that happen! Instead they want to take MORE away from the very people that are victims of the economic imbalance of this greed operated system!

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 20, 2011 at 12:04PM

“If you are really in dire need and collect welfare, you should not have any problems with any drug testing. What I believe should be looked into and broken is the welfare cycle where the grandmother is 45 the mom is 30 and the daughter is 15 and pregnant. You understand am just saying it should not matter and maybe young people will see more than a mom or dad on welfare but someone trying to make a life. It bothers me that there is such a feeling of entittlement to funds from the state, welfare, no, work and teach your kids that there is a better way of life that they dont have to sell drugs to make it..think about it...it cannot get any worse...”

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3. Anonymous said... on Apr 20, 2011 at 01:24PM

“I don't think it has anything to do with a person being poor “as the title states”. With today’s economy everyone has cut back somehow. I personal have never been on welfare and I struggle to make ends meet each month as a single mother 2 children. However, seeing a welfare recipient all drugged up in a supermarket with there access card is bother some to me. Knowing, that I not only pay for that person’s food but their addiction. And for the wealthy people whom are on drugs I personally don't care…however, they should seek help. But I'm not paying for their "poor" habit.”

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4. Social Worker said... on Apr 21, 2011 at 01:52PM

“I work in the Social Services industry with the welfare to work population and i agree with Alloway wanting to administer drug test. Drug testing is currently part of our employment pre assessments for clients that are in Job Search phase, and 80% of them tested had hot urine (marijuana and cocaine). The problem with this situation is they are also the hardiest to place in employment, because they can not pass a drug screen and they lack motivation and drive. I deal with this every day and it is a major problem. Welfare is an emergency assistance program, not a career. Lets get to the bottom of the problem, so we can put the proper systems in place for a higher success rate of people on welfare.
From a woman who cares and want effective change that produce successful results.”

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5. Philly RN said... on Apr 21, 2011 at 02:49PM

“As a psych nurse who has worked with addicts on welfare, I support this bill wholeheartedly, using the full force of my professional and educational experience that includes an MSN. The concept of enabling in welfare can't be discounted. Welfare is an enabler just like any codependent relative or friend. This is not "helping" the addict. This is enabling the addict.

We have to sure that we do everything we can to end the enabling from any source, especially the government.”

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6. Philly RN said... on Apr 21, 2011 at 03:00PM

“Other states have these requirements, and the effect on the condition of the inner cities has been palpable. Measurements show that outcomes improve with drug testing, not just related to welfare, but also as conditions of employment or hiring. It's the reality of the modern workplace. Nurses are required in many cases to take them as a condition of employment, or ongoing employment. This is the taxpayers' money. We have an obligation to ensure that we are spending this money well.

The depth of the problem in Philly is very severe, and few groups have done much to examine it except NIDA and the like. Federal studies which include Philly and examine welfare recipients show that there is correlation between abuse and welfare and public housing. Let's not panic and fly into denial at this finding. This programs will be cut if denial is the only response advocates can think of. It is wise to agree to testing as a condition of benefits to protect funding.”

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7. anonymous said... on Apr 21, 2011 at 03:30PM

“The state is supposedly broke. If drug use among welfare recipients is a big enough issue to warrant this legislation, how in the world is the state going to pay to send hundreds, maybe thousands of people to rehab? Are there even beds to accommodate them? And what happens to kids while mom's in rehab? Foster care? Isn't that also a huge expense for our broke state? These idiots have not thought through ANY of the consequences of enacting a policy like this. Put aside the civil liberties argument and just consider the cost and the likely outcome - how effective is rehab without significant follow-up support? Do they plan to send people to rehab for testing positive for pot? You don't do random drug testing because you want to help drug addicts. You do random drug testing to catch people using and fire them, cut their support, or somehow punish them. Let's call this what it really is - another way to get more people off the welfare rolls.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Apr 21, 2011 at 05:58PM

“Welfare money is supposed to be for basic necessities like food & shelter not drugs. If you're using welfare money to buy drugs that's abusing the system plain and simple.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Apr 22, 2011 at 12:40PM

“Go for it , Aloway.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Jun 12, 2011 at 10:35AM

“Test them. They should be. I lived next to people collecting on meth and have a new flat screen tv and every gaming system known to man and let their house fall down around them. and get medicaid while I injured my back working as a medic and lost everything and got screwed by the state by helping people such as themselves. I couldn't walk and received a drug test, and when you apply for a job you get one. UC is cut off and there are people abusing the system. If you work you get screwed and tax money does go to people who choose not to betterthemselves. They should be thrown to the wolves like the hard working have been and lost their houses and live in shelters and cars. They shouldn't have the state pay for their "illness" it is not it's a choice. There is a difference between cancer and those with it who work and can't get help and these crackheads who get paid by us and waster our money to smoke crack and watch Jerry. How about giving those who lost their jobs who want to work he'”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jun 12, 2011 at 12:07PM

“Help. (I'm using my phone to type this.) People in jail have more rights also they get health insurance and get a little pay for what they do. Philadelphia jails have aetna or least they did. Ty groups like the aclu really health benefits what about those who get raped in taxes to pay for their housing and insurance and food. I dont see victims getting that help. Illegals get welfare and wc settlements. I was at court for mine and my cash was cut off for ten month do u know that an illegal mexican on drugs received a 27k settlement for injurying her elbow working at sephora really seemed to me she could use both to swivel the chair and take her hair down from her scrunchie about 60 times when she was on the stand. Look at the requirements for immagrants to collect medicare its amazing. Its not being mean american needs to take care of themselves before these people. U r not a citiz if u go to jail u decide to not be a normal part of society. Get hurt at work or loose u job u r scum”

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12. huudstarr said... on Jun 27, 2011 at 01:05PM

“I've been talking about this for a while. Im a 24 year old Italian/PuertorRican who grew up in the "ghetto". My mother worked all of her life to give us all we ever needed. She never collected welfare, until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year. Now she receives food stamps for herself and my little sister. The reality is that she is addicted to pain killers now (i would be also). On a daily basis my mother is in pain and throwing up. Would they send my ill mother to rehab? Or cut her off and leave her down and out?

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13. Huudstarr said... on Jun 27, 2011 at 01:13PM

“Also I know if the State cut these "drug users" off public assistance, they will still get their fix... SO exspect more beggers in the street, more prostitution, more robberies, and way more crime in this state, especially the urban areas and center city. Most people are going to feel like they cant do it and feel more pressured to stay away from welfare, but turn more to the streets for the money. I'm not giving excuses for anyone, but i live around so many people collecting welfare and i see what goes on. Many abuse the system but without the system they will abuse other things. So the state will then have to have more police out, more judges to take cases, more arrest so the prisons will fill up, along with the rehabs that the state sent the people who failed drug test to. It will not be pretty at all. Walk outside and your car is on blocs b/c someone who cant get clean wants a fix wont go to welfare but its easier and you'll have less criticism stealing and selling on the street.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Jun 27, 2011 at 01:22PM

“It will work better if they only tested people of they had a tip or reasonable cause to test people. Testing everyone would be expensive and ridiculous. Imagine thats like saying every parent that is on welfare would need DHS to come to their homes since they alone cannot take care of their children. DHS needs a tip or reasonable cause to check on a childs welfare. Give them an amout of time to clean up and if they cannot then try the out patient rehabs. All while not removing their benefits. If they fail at the attempts to clean up their act then i can see removing them from welfare. Until they can give a clean urine.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Sep 19, 2013 at 08:04AM

“The ones who con the state for housing and smoking weed what about them too”

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16. Anonymous said... on Sep 19, 2013 at 08:13AM

“Ok its these people who be faking mental disabilities in a program who are smoking weed and collecting welfare what about them too!!! Philadelphia refuses to look at my point of view im on the street til the day i die that's why in still homeless behind people who con the state”

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17. Anonymous said... on Sep 19, 2013 at 08:13AM

“Ok its these people who be faking mental disabilities in a program who are smoking weed and collecting welfare what about them too!!! Philadelphia refuses to look at my point of view im on the street til the day i die that's why in still homeless behind people who con the state”

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18. Anonymous said... on Sep 19, 2013 at 08:26AM

“Pathways to housing for addicts this program got hundreds of frauds in there program who be lying to u people about everything i can't get nothing because i tell the truth that's why im on the street people like me suffers for those who can't tell the truth please hear me out!!!!”

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19. kendall said... on Sep 19, 2013 at 09:02AM

“Until the state do a thrill search on welfare and housing to see who faking i rather die on the street before i take the risk getting in trouble with the state real stuff”


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