Indiana lawmakers have approved a bill that could force welfare recipients who have used illegal drugs into substance abuse rehabilitation programs. Backed by Indiana House member Jud McMillin (R), the bill passed by an overwhelming majority, 78-17, Feb. 25.

The bill, to be considered now by the Indiana Senate, would require recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to first undergo a written test. If drug use screening indicates possible drug use, aid recipients would be required to undergo random monthly drug tests.

The substance abuse screen survey would contain questions such as “True or False. Most people would lie to get that they want?”

“The impetus of this bill is to identify folks who have a problem and help them,” said McMillin. “If you get tested and you’re clean, then you won’t be retested.”

If enacted, the bill would force those who test positive for drug use to face the possible loss of assistance funds. Those who test positive for illegal substances would then have to provide evidence within 30 days that they are actively enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program to continue receiving their benefits.

If the recipient tests positive on the random screening, the cost for the testing would be deducted from their TANF assistance funds.

While the random drug screening could cost the state a half-million dollars, Indiana could save $1.5 million by withholding assistance from drug users, according to the bill’s supporters.

Some TANF recipients find humor in the bill.

“If you have money for drugs, you probably wouldn’t need money from the government,” Katrina Paggett, a TANF recipient, told

Questions have arisen about the proposal being in violation of recipient’s Constitutional rights.

“Merely showing a propensity for an addictive personality on a test should not be deemed to be cause for anything,” said Ken Falk of the American Civil Liberties Union. “I think somehow when we do stuff to poor people, we take a pass on basic constitutional rights.”

Other states are attempting to link welfare to drug testing but the measures have encountered legal hurdles. The day after the Indiana House action, a federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld a lower federal court ruling to strike down a 2011 attempt in Florida to make clean drug test results a requirement for welfare recipients.

“There is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a `concrete danger’ that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use,”
11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett said Feb. 26, upholding a Florida federal judge who said the state action violates Fourth Amendment guarantees against illegal search and seizure. 

Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers