Few Tennessee Welfare Applicants Test Positive for Drugs

By Brent McCluskey 02/13/15

Tennessee adds its name to a growing list of states failing miserably to institute an effective testing program.

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A recent law was passed in Tennessee mandating all welfare applicants submit to a drug test. Of the many thousands that applied, only a handful tested positive.

In total, 16,017 applicants applied for the Families First cash assistance program. Of those, 37 were denied after testing positive for drugs. While the initiative is meant to weed out those individuals who have consumed illicit substances, some say the new rule unfairly singles out those with a low-income.

“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 Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tenn. “There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.

Weinberg is against the drug testing of public benefit applicants and feels the state should instead allocate those resources to providing treatment.

“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,” said Weinberg.

Some like Rep. Glen Casada, however, believe it’s important to keep those applicants who test positive for drugs out of the program.

“That’s 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to,” said Casada. “If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to. This is a good use of taxpayer money.”

The overall cost to fund the program over the last six months has been $5,295, including the purchase of the required drug tests. Those applicants who tested positive were disqualified and referred to a drug treatment program.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.