Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients Gets A “Do Not Pass” Recommendation From Committee


HB1385 is a bill introduced by Rep. Dennis Johnson which would require drug screening before applicants for public assistance in North Dakota can receive benefits.

A very watered-down version of the bill got a 16-4 vote do not pass recommendation from the House Appropriations Committee (it got a narrow, 7-6 “do pass” recommendation from the House Human Services Committee). It will now go to the floor of the House for a vote of the full chamber.

Originally the law applied both the TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) programs, but it has been amended to apply only to TANF. The bill also required, originally, that all applicants for benefits be tested. It has been changed to state that citizens eligible for the program (as opposed to applicants in the original version) “shall” be tested only if there is “reasonable suspicion.”

At this point, if the bill passes, it’s not going to be much of a step forward. If we have to rely on state social workers to voluntarily drug test, it’s probably not going to happen. That’s a shame.

This bill was talked about as if it were an attempt to deny people benefits. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. It’s an attempt to give people who need help a big incentive to stop abusing substances that are contributing to their problem. I think we can all agree that people who need public assistance have no business getting high. I think we can agree that getting high is no doubt central to the reasons why they need public assistance in the first place.

It’s self-defeating, as public policy, to subsidize the lifestyle of those who would rather spend money on getting high than finding a way to be self-sufficient.

Here’s my interview with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Johnson, from last month:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Matthew Hawkins

    I thought you were for legalization of drugs.

    • RCND

      There are a lot of legal things that public assistance funds should not be going to either, such as booze and cigarettes. The legalization of drugs debate and this issue are two separate things

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I am.

      But I think that people who have money to get high don’t need public assistance.

      • Matthew Hawkins

        What other legal activities do you want the government to be able to test for?

        If you take public assistance can I require you to surrender all your guns?

        • two_amber_lamps

          Last time I checked, drug abuse wasn’t sanctioned let alone even mentioned in the Constitution, much less Welfare. Which Amendment was that you were referring to?

          • yy4u2

            Matt falls out of the short bus again to reveal his special kind of stupid.

          • two_amber_lamps

            Yes sir… with every post…

        • Onslaught1066

          Psssssssssssssst! Mathew, you’re a retard.

          Now if you want to try again, you could say something a little more intelligent like Oh, I don’t know, how about “People on public assistance can’t use food stamps to “buy” a gun.

          How about that, you retard?

          • Guest

            Pssst! Nothought1066, you’re retarded. Someone who thinks that the address of a Senator’s office is an “opinion piece” and calls another a “retard” should immediately check the mirror to confirm that they are in fact a black pot.

          • Onslaught1066

            IYO, of course.

            I would invite you to post an actual fact but, it is obvious that you are simply incapable of discerning fact from opinion.

            Happy meandering, buddy.

      • Davo

        Do kids who have parents who get high also not need public assistance?

        • Onslaught1066

          You tell us, Devo.

  • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

    I would hate for those taking benefits to have to take the drug test that many of us, not me at the moment, have to take to keep our jobs. WTF is wrong with those Bismarck tards?

    • Davo

      This bill would do almost nothing to limit the ability of welfare recipients to use illegal drugs. Fortunately, the majority of your legislature recognized this for the cynical ploy it was.

      • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

        Then make it tougher to use illegal drugs.

        • camsaure

          Yes, but wouldn’t that be devastating to the democrats base?

          • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

            Too bad.

    • opinionated

      Dorkman fiscal hawk.
      Rhinos chicken hawks

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

      there are too many RINO’s in ND.

  • whowon

    Anyone who is applying for these services should have no problem with being tested, negative results? No charge! All of those who wouldn’t pass are against it.

    • PK

      I doubt that. I would bet money that a larger percentage of the people for it would fail a drug test than the ones against it.

      • whowon

        exactly why we should have it. Federal law permits drug testing as part of the TANF block grant according to the Tribune story, why wouldn’t we want to do it then? Social Services thinks it might prevent someone for applying, is it there job to give our tax dollars to ANYONE?

        • PK

          I agree there should be testing for someone who’s been on welfare for a while, but someone who’s always had a job and needs help shouldn’t be subject to a test like that. This is America, we shouldn’t have to surrender our 4th Amendment right just because we need public help so we don’t go bankrupt. They should take our kids away too when we lose our jobs.

  • jimmypop

    fairly sure this law is illegal……

    everyone wants to be tough on the folks that take advantage so those that dont get the support they need, but you have to follow the laws.

  • sanne

    They shouldn’t be doing a lot of things; some legal, some not. They should not drive over the speed limit. They should not smoke in front of their children. They should not buy premium gas. They probably should not go to bars, since it not a necessity. They should not jaywalk.

    This bill does not deny assistance to the family because the parent is abusing drugs. It denies assistance if the parent tests positive. Are we to deny assistance because of any wrong act? I would think that you, Rob, would think that government assistance programs are already demeaning and paternalistic. Why make them more so?

    And, if the purpose is to get the person help rather than punish the family, why does the bill deny assistance for at least six months, even if the person is willing to immediately get treatment?

  • Davo

    Drug tests aren’t free. There are practical and administrative costs involved in their implementation. Who should pay for them?

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      I’m all for this. I think that the state can pay for the cost of the first test and save a bunch of money in the process when we don’t support druggies.

      • Snarkie

        That *idea* about how it will work has been proven wrong when implemented elsewhere. It wastes money.

  • Davo

    Hmm, reading the legislation, it says applicants can just get a “clean” relative to take the test for them, and still get the benefits. Sweet!

    IOW: For people committed to taking drugs, this law would do nothing to prevent them from receiving money–it would just make them not show up for the drug test. The law is not intended to curb drug use: Its sole purpose is so legislators can say to their constituents “I’m vigilant about ending drug use and stopping those welfare cheats!”

  • Davo

    Ooh, this just keeps getting better and better!

    OK, so you only have to take the drug test once, at application, and you get to decide when you’re going to apply.

    I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that approximately 0% of drug users are going to apply for TANF in that first month after the bill passes.

    The NEXT month, after the drugs are out of their system? HELL YEAH! Then they can hop right back on the wagon!

    Other cool facts demonstrating the absolute pointlessness of this bill (and also demonstrating that its primary function was NOT to reduce drug use): You can just *tell* the administrator that you have a prescription. No one checks this, and there’s no punishment for lying. And the type of drug test they perform–if it’s the same as the one they do in Florida, which is what this legislation is based on (per the interview Rob has above) does NOT separate the various opiate drugs. So, if you’re on heroin, just tell the drug tester “Oh, by the way, I have a prescription for percocet.” Your drug test will show that you’ve taken opiates, but–guess what!?!–since those can be explained by the percocet in your system, you’re STILL eligible for benefits!

  • opinionated

    All business owners must post no smoking signs. All incoming kindergartner’s must have immunizations. Why is it that he rest of us have to follow rules but not those living off of us? …… You know what they are afraid of, they don’t know what they would do if all these tests came back hot. Child Protective Services would be so busy finding homes for these kids while we taxpayers would be footing the bills for rehab. It was all about the kids in the tougher drunk driving laws but they suddenly don’t care if theses parents are crack heads… Rob print the names of the rhinos, so we know who to replace next election.

  • John_Wayne_American

    if we cant pass this can we at least consolidate all social programs state county, city etc. to one institution, cut out all the separate agency’s and combine all the staffs to a one stop state run shop, then divide out the recipients to the case workers and require a once a month interview to see if progress is being made? if not start cutting back on payments till progress improves?

    would that be so flipping tough?

    Man what a bunch of panzy ass people in Bismarck!

    The couldn’t pass gas if it would save the taxpayer a nickle.

  • PK

    It’s naive to think that there aren’t very functional people in society that use illegal drugs for their own reasons. Cannabis is very common throughout every demographic and everyone knows it. People fall on hard times and it’s normally not their fault, so to deny them help so they don’t lose everything they’ve worked for because they failed a drug test isn’t right. People who are very capable of working, but still live off the system is what we need to change. Drugs aren’t the issue, it’s abuse of the system. I’ve always liked the idea of soup kitchens and shelters rather than the debit cards that can be used anywhere and government paying for nice apartments. If someone doesn’t want to work and can, let them live like they’re poor and not better than someone who works full time.

    • PK

      This bill is only addressing a symptom of the problem and not the actual problem. It’s kind of like the gay marriage issue. It’s a symptom of an overarching government who makes us get a license to get married and pay income taxes. If there were no ridiculous marriage licensing and unconstitutional direct taxes on our persons, there wouldn’t be a gay marriage debate.

    • http://Sayanythingblog.com The Whistler

      Many jobs require drug testing so it’s hardly an imposition for you to have to give up the weed when the people that are paying for you are being tested for it.

      • PK

        It takes quite a while for you not to test positive on a test though. Someone who has a job and smokes cannabis for whatever reason gets laid off and needs some help to pay bills could get denied that money and end up losing their house and car and whatever. Welfare is meant to help those people get by until they can get back on their feet, not to support people their whole life. There is an argument for drug testing people who’ve been on welfare for a while though. And also, it’s the employers choice to drug test and it’s the employees choice to work there, so that’s not a comparable argument.

  • borborymi

    “drug screening before applicants for public assistance in North Dakota can receive benefits.” Ticking off most farmers in North Dakota who wish not to pee in a cup.

  • Snarkie

    Why are you sad about the bill’s death when other similar billshave proven to be a waste of money? You want to waste money so that 1 or 2% of welfare recipients can’t smoke a joint with their neighbors? It’s in poor taste Port, and you know it.