Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Help Me Howard: Welfare Drug Tests
Do you have a job? Maybe a job where you have to take a drug test to stay employed? Now, do you wonder why people who are getting welfare and unemployment checks don't also have to pass a drug test? Is that legal? It's a question one woman had for Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Maria Quino is one of the lucky ones. She's got a job in the travel industry, a job she enjoys.
Maria Quino: "It's very adventurous, everyday dealing with people trying to get away for their perfect vacation."
A lot of people are talking about jobs, at work, at home and through Internet emails.
Maria Quino: "The e-mail subject is the job urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?"
Maria got the e-mail from a person upset that he is working everyday. Required to stay drug free, while people on welfare, low cost housing and unemployment are not required to stay drug free. It made Maria think.
Maria Quino: "I'm here doing everything legit, and I could possibly be under the microscope for whatever it is I do in my personal life, yet the government is giving out our taxes however they see fit, but they are not screening those who are getting the benefits, and why not?"
And today, to get government assistance you do not have to pass a drug test like people working for many companies do.
Maria Quino: "In my mind, if you were to fail a test while you were trying to collect unemployment, there should be a screening process; well, this time you did not qualify because this, this and this, but if you come back in a time period, and you are clean, at least it would narrow it down."
Now Maria is sympathetic to the plight of those out of jobs and down on their luck who need help to get through these tough times.
Maria Quino: "I'm not saying that people who are legitimately needing government funding in these hard times shouldn't collect it, definitely they should."
But Maria suspects if people on government handouts are on drugs, odds are they won't be able to find work, so force them to get clean, so they can get back into the workforce.
Maria Quino: "I was just thinking, hey, this is something that may be worth putting out there, are other people feeling the same concern?"
Maria suspects the answer is yes.
Maria Quino: "It's only fair that if I'm being screened to keep my job, you should be screened to keep the benefits."
But, legally can the government require the recipient of welfare, public housing, unemployment to pass a drug test before getting the money, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "The state of Michigan tried to impose drug testing on welfare recipients. In that case, it was determined to have violated the Fourth Amendment because it was a warrant-less search of a persons body without justification, and if Florida tried to require testing, it would probably face the same fate."
To drug test a person costs on average around $45, and that would not include the staff and overhead for a state to implement the program. A congressional study revealed that only one half of one percent of the people tested failed, and estimated it would cost $77,000 to catch a drug user. Howard says the drug tests have other drawbacks as well.
Howard Finkelstein: "Drug testing is ineffective in revealing the most widely abused substances like alcohol and cocaine, and it's not cost effective. The cost of the drug testing would be far more expensive than the savings from taking away government benefits to drug users."
Disappointing for Maria, but at least she brought it up and hopes more people pay attention to what the government is and isn't doing.
Maria Quino "As citizens, we should be a little more interested in what is going on, and not just say, 'OK, I'm paying my taxes, and then I'm getting my refund with H&R Block.'"
And maybe another reason the government doesn't want to test people getting benefits for drugs, many government agencies don't test their employees for drugs, and one final thing we dug up, turns out 77 percent of the people using illegal drugs in the U.S. have jobs. Oh well...
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