In the six months since Tennessee started drug testing its residents who applied for public assistance programs like welfare, food stamps (SNAP), etc., just 37 of the 16,017 applicants actually tested positive according to data from the Department of Human Services, WBIR reported.
That means the state used taxpayer money to deny benefits to a mere 0.23 percent of applicants.
Of the more than 16,000 applicants, just over 80 did not receive benefits – not because they tested positive for illegal substances, but because they “discontinued the applications process at some point between the time they were required to fill out” a required questionnaire and finishing the application.
That still makes less than one percent of applicants who did not receive benefits since the state implemented the testing policy, which those opposed to the rule say prove the testing is unnecessary.
“You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs,” said executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee Hedy Weinberg. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.”
“We support the need to combat drug addiction, but if the state truly wants to combat addiction, they should use their resources to fund drug treatment programs rather than blocking access to public benefit applicants, because we’re talking about providing for families,” added Weinberg, who also said that the ACLU has plans to challenge the law in court.
Of course, those who support the law somehow see less than one half of one percent of positive tests as statistically significant.
Since the law was enacted in July, Tennessee has spent $5,295 to administer the program, and of the 37 applicants who tested positive for drugs, 25 of them were referred to drug treatment programs.
Ben Middleton, chief operating officer for Centerstone Tennessee – a network of 50 treatment facilities – said he doesn’t think the law was actually designed to help people with substance abuse problems get assistance.
“That law was written with another purpose, to save money,” said Middleton. “I don’t think its going to scratch the surface.”
Numerous states have enacted similar laws to similar results, showing that there is no real statistical correlation between a low income and illegal drug use. Florida’s law was even ruled unconstitutional in 2013 after the state spent more than $45,000 in four months and found that just two percent of welfare recipients tested positive for drugs. Tennessee’s law, and the others like it around the country, serve no purpose other than to demonize and dehumanize low income families.