In a mean-spirited move, Tennessee legislators are pushing a bill on Wednesday, March 7 that would subject every applicant to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to a mandatory, suspicionless drug test. Federal courts have repeatedly found that such policies violate the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that the government have individualized suspicion before forcing someone to submit to a drug test.
Even the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee anticipates that passage of such a bill would trigger litigation, with costs exceeding $100,000. That is on top of other increases in state expenditures caused by the bill—costs totaling more than $600,000 in the first three years, plus $172,300 each year after that. This is a total waste of taxpayer dollars given that the vast majority of drug tests come back negative.
This bill demonizes and demoralizes people who are struggling financially at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are relying on public assistance. Such drug tests are not only humiliating, they rely on some of the ugliest stereotypes of low-income people. The fact is that poor people are not more likely to use drugs than the general public.
The only reason applicants are subjected to these humiliating and intrusive tests is that they are poor. Drug testing is not a requirement of others seeking government aid, such as students receiving grants and scholarships to attend college, or, for that matter, candidates for state legislative office seeking to receive salaries from the state.
Thank you for standing up for the fair treatment of all Tennesseans.