To: House Human Services Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1385 Drug Testing for TANF and SNAP Recipients
Date: February 4, 2013

A fundamental criterion for our state’s welfare policy should be protecting human life and human dignity in the spirit of charity. We feel House Bill 1385 fails this test.

House Bill 1385 is Misdirected and Misguided.
The purpose of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is to provide a safety net for families with children and to help them address problems that may be beyond their capacity for a time so that they can become working and self-sufficient. It is not about catching drug abusers. In fact, persons convicted for drug-related offenses are already prohibited from receiving benefits.

While drug use may interfere with a parent’s ability to obtain and keep a job, denying the parent needed assistance and returning him or her to the streets benefits neither the individual nor society. It is especially counterproductive and unwise to deny and delay benefits to a parent willing to immediately enter treatment.

House Bill 1385 is Prohibited by Law
With regard to SNAP, the bill is pointless. SNAP is a federal program and federal law does not allow states to use drug testing in determining eligibility for the program.1 Concerning TANF, courts have ruled requiring drug testing for every TANF applicant violates the United States Constitution.2

Better and More Effective and Legal Options Exist
Drug testing applicants is costly. Before enjoined by a federal court, Florida’s attempt to test TANF applicants resulted in only 2.6 percent of the applicants testing positive, resulting in the state picking up the costs for 97.4 percent of the tests administered.3 States such as Idaho, New York, and Maryland have studied the matter and concluded that the costs outweigh any savings.

There exist more effective and cost-effective ways of helping people with substance abuse problems, which is why substance abuse experts oppose drug testing welfare recipients.4 For example, studies have found that entry questionnaires and behavioral screening are more successful at identifying applicants with drug abuse problems. Moreover, they have the added benefit of detecting alcohol abusers; something that cannot be accomplished with a drug test.

We should also remember that TANF recipients must participate in work or educational activities and participate in individual responsibility plans. If drug use interferes with accomplishing those tasks, getting the recipient substance abuse counseling as part of a comprehensive TANF to work program would be more effective.

House Bill 1385 Violates the Spirit of Charity
The greatest reason to defeat HB 1385 is that it violates the spirit of charity that should guide any public assistance program. Many people are concerned that government assistance has replaced private charity. Some feel that both are needed. If any government assistance exists, however, the dignity of the human person requires policies in conformity with principles of charity rather than paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need. Even government programs must be shaped by charity which, as its Latin root reveals, is about love.

One of the early Christian Church Fathers, Saint John Chrysostom addressed head-on the tension between our call to care and our human tendency to judge a person’s worthiness. Drawing on Abraham, Paul, and Christ himself, Chrysostom reminded his flock that when it comes to addressing a person’s need, all that matters is that person’s need. To judge a person’s worthiness is not an act of charity.5

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 it.  Discovering why a person is poor helps us to address the problems that might have contributed to the person's plight. The information should not be used to determine worthiness or to deny or delay filling the person’s need.

Every public assistance program should be informed by charity and as St. John Chrysostom reminded us as far back as the Fourth Century: “Charity is so called because we give it even to the unworthy.”

We respectfully ask for a Do Not Pass recommendation on House Bill 1385.

1 Section 5(b) of the Food and Nutrition Act, codified at 7 U.S.C. §214(b), “No plan of operation submitted by a State agency shall be approved unless the standards of eligibility meet those established by the Secretary, and no State agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility as a condition for participating in the program” (emphasis added). See also, Drug Testing and Crime-Related Restrictions in TANF, SNAP, and Housing Assistance, Congressional Research Service, March 7, 2012.

2 Lebron v. Wilkens, Case No. 6:11-cv-01473-Orl-35DAB, Order Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction (M.D. Fla. 2011). Marchwinski v. Howard, 113 F. Supp. 2d 1134 (E.D. Mich. 2000); Marchwinski v. Howard, 60 Fed. App’x 601 (6th Cir. 2003) (affirming the district court decision). [Michigan law authorizing suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients was unconstitutional where not designed to address jeopardy to public safety; state's desire to address substance abuse as barrier to employment was not special need sufficient to justify departure from ordinary Fourth Amendment requirement of individualized suspicion.]

3 “Florida's welfare drug tests cost more money than state saves, data shows” Miami Herald, April 20, 2012.; “No Savings Are Found From Welfare Drug Tests” New York Times, April 17, 2012.

4 E.g., Center for Addiction and Mental Health, American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc.

5 Saint John Chrysostom on Wealth and Poverty (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press).
“For if you wish to show kindness, you must not require an accounting of a person's life, but merely correct his poverty and fill his need.”
“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.”
“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life, but free him from his misfortune.”
“Need alone is the poor man's worthiness . . .”

“We do not provide for the manners, but for the man.”
“We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy . . .”