Welfare Integrity Act: Welfare Drug Testing Could Be a Civil Liberties Issue

A new bill was introduced to Congress to potentially crack down on drug users who use welfare funds to continue their illegal habits. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) has advocated for the legislation, which would require random drug testing to be performed on welfare recipients. While the intentions are good to prevent taxpayer money from getting abused, a wide array of complications arise. Between civil liberties issues and related court rulings, the bill has little chance of coming to fruition.

This is not the first attempt that Fincher has advocated such a program. The bill’s official name, the Welfare Integrity Act (WIA), was introduced in 2011. However the bill died out in the early stages of the legislative process and failed to get passed through a single committee. According to the bill’s summary, it called to amend title IV of the Social Security Act, which states the eligibility and requirements for providing aid to recipients through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. If passed, the new WIA will require states to administer drug testing for 20% of welfare recipients.

In a press release from the congressman’s staff, Fincher explained his motivations behind the legislation.

“Currently the federal government enables drug abusers a safety-net by allowing them to participate in the TANF program. Instead of having to make the hard-choice between drugs and other essential needs, abusers are able to rely on their monthly check to help them pay their bills,” Fincher said.

For the fiscal year in 2011, nearly $18 billion was spent in federal funding for TANF. However Fincher’s plan could potentially create vast expenditures for providing mandatory drug testing. A similar drug screening law was passed in Florida but a judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit against the legislation, claiming that the mandatory testing was unconstitutional. The Florida program also found little evidence that an overwhelming majority of welfare recipients were drug abusers.

The most significant weakness to Fincher’s plan is that his motivations are based on pure assumptions and lack credibility. The legislation does not sit well with civil liberties enthusiasts, as the nature of the document promotes unreasonable search and seizures, thus violating the Bill of Rights.

This Republican backed program will have a difficult time winning over liberal members of Congress. Any proposal to significantly change a social program will most likely result in Democratic opposition. While Fincher wants to crack down and address the prevalent substance abuse issue in the U.S., the odds are certainly against him for getting his agenda pushed in Washington.

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Shawna Gillen

Shawna is currently studying Political Science and Psychology at Marist College. She has a passion for politics and is an aspiring lawyer. In her spare time she likes to play club women's rugby, and contributes as the Co-News Editor for Marist's student newspaper.

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