Politics Blog

ACLU Responds to Drug-Testing-the-Poor Bill Signing

Jennifer Riley-Collins, executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi, made the following statement about Gov. Phil Bryant's signature of HB 49, which would require drug testing for some people receiving federal-state assistance:

Today is a sad day as Governor Bryant signed into law HB 49, thereby subjecting Mississippi's most vulnerable to unnecessary and costly drug testing.

Most recipients of TANF are children. The Mississippi Department of Human Services website states “monthly TANF benefits are made for eligible children and their needy caretaker relatives who do not have enough income or resources to meet their everyday needs.” We should not subject the most vulnerable among us to the false assumption that they (or their caregivers) are drug users. It’s unfair and untrue. The small amount of public assistance goes to provide limited funds to cover basic necessities such as food and shelter for families.

Such a law would cost the state of Mississippi considerably more to implement than it would save. A comprehensive report put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2011 reviewed the estimated costs of implementing various proposed welfare drug testing programs in twelve different states. Not a single one of the legislative cost estimates showed net savings to the state as a result of a proposed drug testing program.

Governor Bryant has stated that he is concerned that “single mothers are not abusing drugs or other substances and try[ing] to maintain a family”. He goes on to justify why “single mothers” are singled out by saying “when someone is taking tax dollars I think we have the right to determine whether or not that individual is abusing a substance”. Almost all of us receive government assistance in one form or another, yet we don’t treat preschoolers, veterans, seniors, or the disabled, to name but a few, as suspected drug users and force them to prove their innocence. We don’t ask anyone else to sacrifice their Fourth Amendment Rights to receive government benefits, public benefit recipients should be treated no differently.


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