This isn’t a cash assistance program but rather where families receive an “electronic benefit card”, which can be used like a debit card on eligible food purchases.
TANF is a federally-funded program for children deprived of support because of a parent’s death, incapacity, absence or unemployment. Cash assistance is available to the family on a time-limited basis (up to
five years). The purpose of the federal program is to provide temporary support in meeting basic needs, job training, employment services and childcare assistance for qualified families with children.
A majority of TANF funding comes from the federal government but is block granted to the states so we have some discretion over how the
funds are dispersed and the program run. Given that this is free money to families, several states in recent years have filed legislation to require drug testing for TANF recipients as a way to protect the state’s financial investment. Unfortunately, states don’t have the same discretion over the SNAP program which is solely ran by the federal government so Congress would have to mandate drug testing for that
While many of these families truly have circumstances that require them to need the assistance, there are many others who simply can’t keep jobs because of drug or alcohol addiction. I’ve heard from citizens all over the state who believe this is wrong and don’t want their tax dollars going to support people who are being so irresponsible, and I agree.
These people need drug treatment not free government handouts. This is why I have filed SB 1011 mandating drug testing for TANF recipients.
There are three states that have passed TANF drug testing bills: Michigan, Florida, and Missouri. The Michigan and Florida laws were challenged and not upheld in court. The Missouri law is less restrictive and has not been challenged.
The legal issues involved in the Michigan and Florida laws are somewhat complex and confusing. Some background on this issue, the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) created TANF, which replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
Whereas AFDC was an entitlement program that provided cash assistance, TANF’s emphasis is on moving recipients into work. PRWORA authorized (but did not mandate) states to utilize TANF funding for the purposes of substance abuse assessment and testing and to sanction those recipients who test positive. Currently, in Oklahoma, all applicants for TANF benefits are screened for substance abuse using a written questionnaire.
If there is an indication of possible substance abuse, the individual is referred to a contracted treatment provider. At that time, a more extensive evaluation is completed that may include a urine test. If there is a recommendation for treatment, that service is incorporated in the self-sufficiency plan. Compliance with the self-sufficiency plan is required by all adult TANF recipients to continue to receive the TANF
benefit. Failure to comply with any part of that plan, including substance abuse treatment, could result in the closure of the TANF case
and, therefore, the loss of assistance.
According to DHS, no one has ever refused to take the questionnaire, but those that refuse to go to the treatment provider for further evaluation are denied TANF benefits
for the entire family.
Until last year, Michigan was the only state to have implemented a mandatory drug testing program of welfare recipients, which is what we want to do in Oklahoma, but that program was found unconstitutional in 2003. The plaintiffs challenged the mandatory drug testing program, arguing that drug testing of TANF recipients violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches. In Marchwinski v. Howard, 113 F.Supp.2d 1134 (2000), the federal district court found that the state’s desire to address substance abuse as a barrier to employment was not a “special need” sufficient to justify departure from the ordinary Fourth Amendment requirement of “individualized suspicion”. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision.
In October of last year, the Florida law was enjoined by a federal district court (Lebron v. Wilkins, No. 6:11-cv-01473-Orl-35DAB). Citing Marchwinski, the court found that the state of Florida failed to prove “special needs” as to why it should conduct such searches without probable cause or reasonable suspicion.
The point behind our TANF drug testing bills is to prevent any abuse of this system. Currently, individuals are only drug tested if their answers on the questionnaire raise suspicion at DHS. But many of my colleagues and I feel that it’s easy to lie and mislead DHS when caseworkers aren’t coming into the homes or meeting face to face with these families on a regular basis, if ever. That’s why we want to make a drug test part of the application process and then continue with random drug tests throughout the duration of an individual’s enrollment.
If applicants have a drug or alcohol problem that has led them to need government assistance, of course they’re going to lie on the questionnaire and do all they can to prevent DHS from finding out why they are so poor or can’t get or keep a job. By blindly giving them free money we’re not helping solve the problem, we’re just further enabling these individuals. We need to help these people get treatment for their addiction.
I’m not the first Oklahoma legislator to present a bill on this issue.
There have been several filed in recent years. Unfortunately, the law historically falls in favor of the TANF recipients. The courts feel it’s unconstitutional to deny assistance to someone because they have an addiction. Given that Michigan and Florida’s TANF drug testing laws weren’t upheld by the courts, even if ours is passed this year, it will probably meet the same fate as those measures.
But given how frustrated the public and legislators are about this issue, it’s important that we keep
fighting for what we believe in. The more this issue is discussed in the legislature and media, the more likely it is to become law and we’ll find a solution that the courts will approve. We need to get away from being a nation that unjustly incentivizes welfare and penalizes work ethic. To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 513A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.