The Results Are In: North Carolina’s Law to Drug Test Work First Applicants is a Costly and Mean-Spirited Waste of Time
By Mike Meno, ACLU-NC Communications Director
Early results of a new law that allows North Carolina to drug test people who apply for Work First, a program that provides temporary assistance to needy families, confirm what the ACLU-NC and others argued at the time of the bill’s passage: it is a wasteful and unnecessary government invasion of vulnerable people’s privacy.
The law was originally passed in 2013, over the veto of Gov. Pat McCrory, who called the measure “a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion” that “is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the state has spent about $4,900 to review 7,600 applicants between August and December. About 2 percent of the applicants were referred for a drug test, and of those, 21 people tested positive. That amounts to less than 0.3% of all applicants, according to the News & Observer.
These numbers show once again that people seeking temporary assistance to support their families are no more likely to use drugs than the general public, and that laws that single out and stigmatize vulnerable people with invasive and constitutionally suspect drug tests are nothing more than a mean-spirited waste of taxpayer dollars.
The people who benefit from Work First’s temporary cash assistance, job training, and support services – and therefor most at risk under this law – are primarily families. In about 62 percent of cases, Work First benefits go to children. Of the 21 cases that tested positive for drugs, 12 involve children. Those families will now receive reduced support, and need to pay $55 for a second test if they want to reapply.
It’s important to remember in these cases that drug tests are notoriously faulty, and that if individuals are in need of drug treatment, cutting off or reducing aid to their families usually does little to get them to the help that they need. Whether it’s student loans or Social Security, many people receive some type of government benefit, yet North Carolina singles out only these vulnerable families trying to make ends meet for this unnecessary and demeaning scrutiny.
North Carolina’s lawmakers should end this misguided and baseless targeting of Work First applicants and give them the same respect and privacy they would anyone else.