To: Senate Human Services Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: Senate Bill 2279 — Drug Testing for TANF Recipients
Date: January 23, 2017

A fundamental criterion for our state’s welfare policy should be protecting human life and human dignity in the spirit of charity. Senate Bill 2279 fails that test.

Testing positive for drug use does not equate with drug addiction. At best, it only proves that an illicit drug was used. The purpose of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), however, is to help families in poverty, not to punish drug users. Deterring illicit drug use is the proper purview of criminal law.

Substance abuse is a medical problem. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to ask whether there exist peer-reviewed studies demonstrating that denial of economic assistance leads to addiction recovery. Without that evidence, this bill, though well-meaning, becomes a misguided experiment that puts kids at risk.

The temptation to judge worthiness for assistance is understandable. It may be part of our fallen human nature. St. John Chrysostom addressed this very question back in the fourth century in what became the standard response to the issue in Christian teaching. He said:

“The poor man has one plea, his want and his standing in need: do not require anything else from him; but even if he is the most wicked of all men and is at a loss for his necessary sustenance, let us free him from hunger.” “Need alone is the poor man's worthiness . . .”

Asking why a person is poor has its value, but not for the purpose of determining whether the person deserves help.  The person deserves help because he or she needs help.  Discovering why a person is poor helps us address the problems that might have contributed to the person's plight. The information, though, should not be used to determine worthiness or to deny or delay filling the person’s need. Otherwise, we transform our social assistance programs to a cold, paternalistic, and demeaning system.

We urge a Do Not Pass recommendation on Senate Bill 2279.