Low-income parents seeking federal assistance would be forced to sign away their Fourth Amendment rights under a bill proposed last week by Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher of Tennessee.
The Welfare Integrity Act of 2013 would require applicants for and recipients of assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to sign a waiver of their constitutional rights and submit to random drug tests. The program helps poor families with children pay for living expenses such as rent, heat, utilities and personal care items.
“Currently the federal government enables drug abusers a safety-net by allowing them to participate in the TANF program,” Fincher said Monday in a statement. “Instead of having to make the hard-choice between drugs and other essential needs, abusers are able to rely on their monthly check to help them pay their bills.”
“By allowing random drug checks, we can ensure families who receive TANF benefits use them for their intended purpose of feeding, clothing and providing shelter for their children, while cutting the tie that enables drug abuse,” he added. “It’s not unreasonable to ask folks to stay clean in order to receive federal assistance.”
Those who tested positive for drug use or have been convicted of drug-related crimes would be temporarily denied TANF benefits under the bill. Those denied three times would be permanently barred from the program.
Similar legislation, the Drug Free Families Act, was introduced to the House in 2011, but died in committee.
Republicans in state legislatures across the country have pushed to require welfare recipients to submit to drug tests. Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a temporary ban on Florida’s law, ruling that requiring the drug tests violated the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable search and seizures.
Michigan has also attempted to implement a welfare drug testing law, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2003.
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