Can NY afford drug tests for welfare recipients?

After CNY Central broke the news that the New York State Senate is considering a law to require welfare recipients to undergo drug tests, many readers wondered about the cost of such a requirement.

Under Senate Bill 174, if a person on public assistance tests positive for illegal drugs, he or she would be required to undergo drug treatment. The bill says only that the fiscal implications are "to be determined."

As President and CEO of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare , Jeremy Klemanski agrees with proponents who say such a requirement would pay for itself. SBH has drug treatment facilities in Syracuse and Rochester. Last year SBH served 4250 clients and boasts a "70 to 80 percent" success rate. Klemanski says the social benefits of helping welfare recipients kick their drug habits are significant. He says a majority of crimes are committed when people are "impaired." He says addictive behavior also affects joblessness and domestic abuse.

Klemanski cautions that any requirement that ties welfare eligibility to drug treatment should be "flexible." He says officials should "be prepared for setbacks" especially in the early stages of treatment but "we must keep them engaged."

He says the greatest benefit would be realized when the welfare recipient is healthy enough to resume his or her life free of public assistance.

Political Science Professor Grant Reeher, of S-U's Maxwell School of Citizenship says the bill could become a lightning rod for public debate. "It's taking a whole category of people...those who are applying for public assistance and kind of holding them as a group, being subject to probable cause for using drugs."

Grant expects the bill will pass the Republican controlled State Senate, but does not expect Democrats in the Assembly will follow suit.

Original story from Wednesday:

Should it be mandatory for welfare recipients to take part in mandatory drug testing? It's a question that New York lawmakers are about to debate once again.

CNY Central just spoke to NYS Senator John DeFrancisco who says he will co-sponsor a bill that would require anyone applying for welfare services to submit to a drug test. If they test positive they would have to enter into a drug treatment program. If they don't enroll or fail to particpate in the program. they would not receive any public assistance. DeFrancisco tells us he believes the bill is "perfectly reasonable."

Some of our CNY Central readers have asked how the state would pay for such a program. Senator Defrancisco's office just sent us his explanation for how such a program cold be financial feasible. Defrancisco said, "by the savings from having to pay drug addicts habits and from those that won't apply for fear of getting caught. And from the savings from reduction in crime resulting from identifying and getting drug users into treatment." The actual bill says the financial piece is yet to be determined.

CNY Central's Jim Kenyon talked with welfare recipients outside the Onondaga County Civic Center. Veronis Burke said, "I believe it's a violation of privacy because there's a lot of people out here who are struggling with trying to find financing...then to throw a bone in to say you have a drug problem you can't qualify when you really need the help."

But others on public assistance support the idea. Gladys Melchior said, "A lot of people just get on public assistance just to buy their drugs with it. That's wrong. You shouldn't do that. It's for bills, your kids and stuff like that."

Jessica Pavlas agreed, "A lot of people choose to blow their money, not on their families, but on drugs. I've seen's ridiculous."

New York isn't the only state to consider this controversial issue.

Tuesday, a South Dakota House panel rejected a measure that would have required officials in three state agencies to give drug tests to people getting help from several welfare programs. However, a committee approved a second measure that gives state officials the discretion to conduct random drug screening of people who get cash payments from the welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Supporters of the measures say drug testing is needed because some people on welfare are using illegal drugs.

But South Dakota's Social Services Secretary says evidence of illegal drug use should be given to law officers, not welfare officials.

This week, the Missouri House approved a measure imposing drug-testing on welfare recipients if there is "reasonable suspicion" the recipient was using drugs. The applicant would have to submit to a test or have their family benefits cut. Opponents of the bill question the cost and lack of drug treatment programs for those who test positive.

A Kentucky state lawmaker wants random drug testing of adults who receive food stamps, Medicaid or other state assistance. Those who fail the test would lose their benefits.

In Oregon, two bills are up for debate . One would require anyone receiving food stamps or unemployment benefits to take a drug test every six months. Another bill would require those applying for unemployment insurance to first pass a drug test.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union website , "drug testing welfare recipients as a condition of eligibility is a policy that is scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound," and says welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than everybody else.

The website says both New York and Maryland each considered a program for random drug tests, but "abandoned the plan as not cost-effective, given that urinalysis is almost exclusively a barometer of marijuana use and that welfare recipients are required to undergo regular supervision, allowing for effective monitoring absent the cost and intrusion of mandatory drug testing."

What do you think? Should drug testing be mandatory for welfare recipients in New York or do you find it goes against our civil liberties? Which welfare services should be included in a drug testing requirement? Voice your opinion in the comment section below.