By: Courtney Harrington
This past Tuesday, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners met to discuss a proposal that would require residents take a drug test in order to continue receiving annual public assistance benefits. The board gathered together to hear a report and weigh the pros and cons of the issue. However, many people resent the idea of such a movement.
According to critics around the area, they believe the proposal is nothing but a way of unfairly singling out low-income people during the “worst” economic downturn in decades. Studies have been conducted showing that those who receive government aid are no more likely to abuse illegal drugs than the rest of the population. “It is amazing we are having this discussion in this economic recession. Everybody knows someone who is unemployed,” Louisa Warren, a senior policy advocate for the North Carolina Justice Center, stated. The movement would subject recipients for aid towards Medicaid, food stamps and Work First to take a drug test.
On the other side of the issue, Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, the man behind the proposal, feels strongly that nobody would want to enable a drug user. “I’ve been taking drug tests my entire working life, I don’t think it’s asking too much,” he explained.
While N.C. is discussing the proposal, Florida, Missouri and Arizona have already finalized the movement. Arizona and Missouri are requiring recipients to take a drug test “where these is ‘reasonable’ cause to believe the person is using illegal drugs.” However, Florida is only requiring applicants for cash assistance to pay for a drug test. If and when the person passes the test, the state then reimburses the applicant for the cost of the test. According to reports two percent of applicants would most likely test positive.
Around 13,000 people in Mecklenburg County apply for benefits like Medicaid annually. If such a proposal is passed, many residents around the area could potentially lose their eligibility. Many believe that distributing drug tests would be considered unconstitutional. A 1998 state attorney general says that mandatory drug testing without suspicion for Work First recipients is not right. “Such drug testing proposals are based on unfair, inaccurate stereotypes and treat low-income people as though they are guilty until proven innocent, which turns our Constitution on its head,” Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the N.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said.
As of right now, implementing drug tests would cost roughly six million dollars a year. As Mecklenburg County Commissioners discuss the issue, many North Carolinians will continue to put up a fight.