ND House Defeats Bill Requiring Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients


Rep. Dennis Johnson’s bill, HB1385, originally would have required drug testing for all recipients of public assistance. As I wrote yesterday, the bill got watered down over concerns about the legality of applying this to the SNAP (food stamps) program and privacy considerations in general.

Today even that watered down version of the bill failed in the state House.

The full debate is here. Rep. Dan Ruby, in arguing for a “yes” vote on the bill, referenced some of the public records information I requested about the TANF program specifically:

As I wrote previously, 48% of TANF benefits in North Dakota are spent on fast food, eating out, ATM’s and video rentals. That doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with drug testing for TANF recipients, but it was pertinent to the debate on the floor.

The loudest argument against the bill, coming from Representatives Bette Grande and Chet Pollert, had to do with TANF being the wrong program to target. They pointed out that 45% of the program applies to children, and that it’s not right to apply drug testing to a program like that.

Which is a strange argument. Those benefits are collected, on behalf of the children, by an adult. Shouldn’t we want to make sure, then, that the adult in question isn’t diverting some of those benefits to feed a substance abuse habit? Arguing that TANF goes mostly to single moms and kids isn’t a valid argument against ensuring the adults who get, and spend, the benefits are drug free.

And the privacy issues don’t concern me. Government benefits are not mandatory. Nobody is forcing anyone to take a drug test. It would only be established as a prerequisite for getting benefits. Or, as in the amended version of the bill, it would only enable social workers to request a drug test if they suspect those collecting the benefits are taking drugs.

It’s hard to imagine why we’d vote against that. It’s hard to imagine why we wouldn’t want to give those on public assistance a big reason to stop using drugs. But the House decided to vote against accountability.

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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  • zipity

    In Bette Grande’s defense, she has an IQ a shade lower than algae…

    Why else would she make such an asinine argument?

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      That’s not nice. I disagree with Rep. Grande’s position on this, but she came by it honestly. She deserves respect as an articulate, forceful legislator who is right most of the time.

    • Davo

      What should be done to children who just picked the short straw at conception, and wound up with two poor parents who’ve smoked marijuana?

      NOTE: “Whatever, not my problem” is not a viable political strategy.

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        If you’d read the bill, you’d know that children whose parents are disqualified can continue to receive benefits through another relative (who must also take the test) or a relative.

        • Davo

          Wow, you are schizophrenic (you’re arguing the opposite above!)

          So, yeah. OK, so, yes, for people committed to taking drugs, this bill will do nothing to affect their eligibility for government benefits. Addicts will just have gramma head down to the station instead.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Uh, no, that’s not true.

            Addicts can’t get benefits for themselves. The children of addicts can continue to get benefits, but through a relative who isn’t on drugs.

      • joeb

        You think there might be a connection between smoking marijuana and being poor? Just maybe? In Williston a clean UA means you can get a job that pays double what not being able to pass will get you. That’s just one side of the equation, (income), but people who aren’t stoned just might make better spending decisions, too. Think about it.
        Or should the taxpayers subsidize the loving but loaded nurturing of the next generation of disfunctional people instead of place some expectations that those who are indigent at least do the basics to improve their lot?

        Welfare was supposed to be a safety net, not a hammock.

  • headward

    To get your CDL you have background checks and drug tests. I don’t hear anything about privacy there.

    • RCND

      Many jobs in the private sector and in government have mandatory drug testing. The people contributing to these programs through their tax dollars should not have a higher expectation of being drug free than those who benefit from those tax dollars

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        The irony is that those who work in the private sector and often get drug tested are the ones who pay for these programs, where we’re so reticent to drug test.

        • retirenowconrad

          Were you able to find the role call for this vote? It doesn’t seem to be on the state site yet.
          If you have it could you please add to your post?

      • Davo

        OK, RCND, so you become governor, and get this law passed. Bravua.

        Starting tomorrow, the coke-heads (and their children) are no longer eligible for food stamps.

        …What do you think happens *next*?

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          You’d like to think that they’d stop using drugs in order to access benefits.

          • Davo

            Right, that is pretty standard behavior for people addicted to heroin. #RobLivesInAnInceptionLikeUniverseWhereHisFantasiesAreConfusedWithReality

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Well maybe they’ll keep using drugs.

            As i mentioend before, the intent of this bill wasn’t to stop people from using drugs. If they quit to get benefits, that’s great, but the intent of the law is to stop subsidizing those with substance abuse problems.

          • Davo

            The State is ALWAYS going to subsidize poor people who want to use drugs–this bill does nothing to change that.

            If not through TANF (odd that SSI and Medicaid get skipped here, no?) , then it’ll be through the costs of property damage, the costs of imprisonment, or the costs of homelessness (emergency medical services, etc).

            So, of course, the intent of this bill wasn’t to make fewer poor people use drugs. It was to further a narrative in which we can pretend we’re trying to have fewer people use drugs or abuse welfare.

          • borborygmi

            Well maybe they’ll keep using drugs….Well at least they have part of the Libertarian platform. They are using drugs freely without a care for the gov’t war on drugs…… Now if the crack addict would just get the personal responsiblity part down

        • RCND

          I’ll use the classic liberal argument on that … “But if we can help only ONE it would be worth it”.

          We dealt with it if it happens and when it happens. There are many other reasons why all of a sudden kids can’t be properly provided for, and we do the same thing. What is happening now is not acceptable though

        • retirenowconrad

          I’ll take a crack a this.

          The coke-heads wouldn’t get to buy booze and smokes with tax payer money?

          The coke-heads would move to Minnesota?

          Commonsense legislation voted down. Great job Republican majority!

  • Davo

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

    In addition, 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!

    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!” Or, in different terms: “The purpose of this law is to like it or hate it, and then to like or hate whoever hated or liked it.”

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      You should look a little bit harder into how the TANF program works.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      The benficiary can’t just get someone else to take the test. The only people who can get benefits after a failed test are children in that if their parents fail the test they can get benefits through a third party.

      • Davo

        They absolutely can, you didn’t read the legislation you posted yesterday. Section 5b:

        An appropriate protective payee must be designated to receive benefits on behalf

        of the child. The parent may choose to designate another individual to receive

        benefits for the parent’s minor child. The designated individual must be an

        immediate family member or, if an immediate family member is not available or

        the family member declines the option, another individual, approved by the

        department, may be designated. The designated individual also must undergo

        drug testing before being approved to receive benefits on behalf of the child.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          Right. Those benefits then go to the child, not the parent.

          • Davo

            Heroin addicts are well-known for obeying the honor system. “Yes, I *swear* these will go to my kids!”

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Which is why, under the law, the heroin addicts aren’t in charge of the benefits.

    • joeb

      “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.”

      Maybe, but you would be amazed at how many applicants go through the full pre-employment application and background check, etc. for jobs and lose it on the drug test–one that was advertized they would have to pass. You’d think they would know better, and it costs employers a bunch just to have to turn them down.

  • Davo

    “Shouldn’t we want to make sure, then, that the adult in question isn’t diverting some of those benefits to feed a substance abuse habit? ”

    This law was not designed to prevent that from happening.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      The average recipient gets benefits for a few months.

      So we could get them to stop using drugs for a few months, coupled with the program’s requirements for job training/applications?

      Sounds like a good mix to me.

      • Davo

        A) If they fail, they can just get grandma to drive down to the drug-testing facility to grab their benefits–they still get the benefits.

        B) If you really think taking away foodstamps will seriously limit an addict’s ability to score some meth…well, you are living in a fantasy world.

        It will *ABSOLUTELY 100%* make it more likely that their children will go hungry, however.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          No, it won’t. Children can still get benefits. Adults who use drugs cannot.

          And I’m not so much worried about stopping people from getting meth as I’m interested in cutting off benefits for people who use meth.

          • Davo

            So Methhead Molly gets her benefits cut off, but Tiny Timmy still gets his.

            Who’s gonna pay for his PBJ? Not Molly, she’s using his benefits for meth now.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            No, Methhead Molly doesn’t get the benefits. Someone else, who must pass a drug test (up to and including someone appointed by the state if no acceptable relative can be found) gets the benefits on behalf of the child.

          • JoeMN

            That’s the key to making this a great idea.

            Nobody takes anybody’s kids, so long as there are sober, responsible caretakers. And the prospect of welfare is the carrot on a stick.

        • JoeMN

          Meanwhile we are satisfied by leaving children under the care of a dangerous meth head, as long as Democrats can buy their votes with welfare bennies

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            Exactly, good question.

          • Davo

            Should adults who’ve smoked marijuana be allowed to have children, or should The State take them away?

          • Onslaught1066

            Why should your worthless parents be the only exception, devo?

          • JoeMN


            This should be based on whether their safety is in question.

            I do hope you are not arguing that any current meth head is capable of providing a secure environment for children
            That kind of talk makes me nervous.

  • jimmypop

    as in the other thread…. I’m fairly sure this law would have been illegal. so this ‘no’ just saved us a bunch of court costs. nice job.

    • headward

      This law wouldn’t have been illegal.

      • whowon

        Of course not, other States have done it. Eventually the testing requirement for food stamp recipients was dropped. Drug tests for welfare benefit applicants would have been carried out only if there was reasonable suspicion that a person was using illegal drugs. If they tested clean, the state would pay the cost of the test.

        • camsaure

          I also think that in lieu of food stamps, the recipients should rather get basic commodities instead. That would help solve a large part of the problem and probably be cheaper.

          • JoeMN

            Actually, a cheaper alternative for the taxpayer would be to allow them to opt out of traditional programs, and instead receive a cash payment equal to a calculated amount of what they would have collected in a year in lieu of programs, with the checks disbursed bi weekly , but for a limited amount of time….. say eight months , and tell them go forth and spend, save for a rainy day, it’s up to you.
            Then they are cut off for the rest of the year.

            Imagine how many short sighted welfare lifers would jump at the chance to take this cash bait.
            The taxpayer would save locally in the costs to administer welfare.

            The key ingredient here is to make welfare uncomfortable by limiting the time frame, plus another surprise…… This income would be TAXABLE.

            Now, year two rolls around.

            Said welfare wannabe recipient rolls back into town to reapply.

            Taxes from year one would be deducted from year two !
            And an amount equal to the employer and employee share of SSI, Medicare and unemployment insurance.


            But the problem still remains that Democrats would immediately seize the opportunity by offering outrageously larger sums to buy votes outright.
            But then again, they do this now.

  • Davo

    This law is a distraction–neither side really cares if it works or not. The Law&Order side and the Civil Rights side are just creating a sideshow, so the people who like or hate them can either like or hate the law.

    It exists for two reasons:

    1) The people who care about this legislation value the ILLUSION of progress (through ideology/narrative) much higher than they care about ACTUAL progress. No one actually cares if more or less poor people use drugs as a result of it; they just want to say “those fascists, they’re violating the Constitution!” or “I can’t believe those libtards want people on welfare to smoke crack!”

    In other words: They are bloggers who follow politics as sport.

    2) It’s designed to distract Americans from asking why it is that so many poor people do, in fact, feel resigned to use drugs so regularly. Because THAT train of thought can actually threaten the status quo.

    It’s a method of maintaining power. And yet, if you asked the legislators why they supported the bill, not only would none of them acknowledge the two points above, but THEY WOULDN’T BE LYING. It’s not individuals who are behind this–it’s the entire culture.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      Well, no, I think the problem is that you don’t really understand how the law will work, or what the motivations behind it were.

      You’re making things up about the law, and then attacking them.

  • Davo

    Why do you suppose no one’s proposing a law that would require drug tests for SSI, or medicaid, or VA benefits?

    The correct answer is that this legislation is just a complete sideshow–it’s how the system maintains power, by convincing people that the narrative of action is more important than the action itself–but I’m curious what you think?

    • jl

      Because those 3 things you mentioned have been paid for, in part, by the person receiving them.