This past legislative session, NASW-NC opposed HB 392 Warrant Status/Drug Screen Public Assist. The Governor vetoed this legislation but the House and Senate overrode the veto; allowing the bill to become law. Governor McCrory has said that he does not want to implement this law until sufficient funding is given across all 100 counties and all counties implement the law in the same way.
See NASW’s Legal Defense Fund Issue: Social Workers and Drug Testing of Public Benefit Applicants (June 2013)
The question of whether welfare recipients should be drug-tested is arising around the country. In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory said no, calling it costly and ineffective. But the Republican-controlled General Assembly overrode his veto of legislation requiring drug tests when there is “reasonable suspicion” to believe an applicant to the state’s welfare-to-work program, called Work First, is abusing drugs. Now, the question is whether McCrory’s administration will implement the law when it’s all said and done. The governor “isn’t taking action on enforcing (the law) until sufficient funds are provided for enforcement,” said his spokesman, Ryan Tronovitch. In a recent statement, McCrory said that not only meant sufficient funds for the Department of Health and Human Services, the leading stakeholder in the law’s implementation, but also “funding for consistent application across all 100 counties.”
At a recent legislative hearing, however, DHHS said it is eyeing policies in Arizona and Utah to potentially shape the rules and regulations here. Still, it’s unclear how seriously the agency is taking its job to implement the new law. Asked this week whether DHHS was acting in good faith to follow the General Assembly’s wishes, spokesman Ricky Diaz issued a one-sentence response: “We are in research mode at this time.” The department declined to respond to a follow-up request for information about what exactly that meant, or whether it intended to implement the law upon its effective date, Aug. 1, 2014.
North Carolina joins at least eight other states in passing a law of this kind: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least 29 states considered similar legislation in 2013. The laws have reportedly been a mixed bag in states that have implemented them. For example, according to The Associated Press, Utah saved $350,000 in its first year of drug-screening welfare applicants, though it found only about 12 people who tested positive. The savings reportedly came from about 250 people who failed to meet drug-screening requirements and were barred from receiving or applying for benefits for three months. Opponents of the Utah law pointed out that there’s no information about why those 250 people failed to meet the requirements and said it was a leap to assume they all had drug issues.
What’s more, laws like the one on the books in North Carolina may also be the subject of future legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union successfully fought a similar law in Florida, and drug testing was halted by a district judge. In February, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling. But a primary difference between the law in Florida and that in North Carolina is that Florida tests all applicants — in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the court ruled — while North Carolina proposes to test only when there is “reasonable suspicion” an applicant is abusing drugs. That could be determined by: a current drug charge on the books; a qualified drug professional or doctor determines the applicant has a drug problem; or existing or new screening tools utilized by DHHS, said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, the bill’s primary sponsor. As far as funding the law, Arp said the legislation allocated $145,000 to meet another component of the law, which directs state agencies to develop a plan and recommend the best way to exchange information about fugitive felons applying for benefits. He said that stemmed from a case in his county of Union where a local DSS worker “about lost her job” because she reported an outstanding felony arrest warrant discovered during a routine background check and reported this information to the deputy on site. Because he cannot issue line-item vetoes, the governor issued an executive order in favor of this portion of the law. DHHS’s Diaz said his agency is “currently researching the best way to connect via databases our departments for access to that information.” (Molly Parker, WILMINGTON STAR-NEWS, 10/19/13).
As a social worker, how does this law impact your work? Do you think we should drug test all public assistance applicants?