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Wisconsin drug-testing rule nabs few offenders

A year after Wisconsin began drug testing able-bodied adults
on welfare seeking certain benefits, only 10 people failed the test.

Since the rule went into effect, a total of 1,305 applicants
have completed the drug screen, with 30 participants being referred for drug
testing.

“Of those 30 referred for drug testing, 8 failed a drug test
and were referred for treatment, 2 individuals who failed a test refused
treatment,” Joe
Scialfa, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Children and
Families (DCF), said in a
statement to AMI Newswire.

In November 2015, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker approved the
rule written by the DCF that established the process for drug screening,
testing, and treatment of individuals seeking job training through three programs:
Transform Milwaukee; Transitional Jobs; and the portions of the W-2 program that
provide services to noncustodial parents.

At the time, Walker said employers were constantly telling
him they had well-paying jobs in high-demand fields, but needed employees to
be drug-free.

“These important entitlement reforms will help more people
find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true
independence,” Walker said in a statement.

In March, an additional rule was approved to establish
procedures for screening, testing and treatment of parents participating in the
Children First program.

DCF receives an appropriation of $250,000 per year from the state legislature to pay for screening, testing and treatment.

“However, the drug screen does not have a cost attached to
it,” Scialfa said. “(And) a drug test costs on average $33.”

Additionally, Scialfa said, since most applicants are
already covered for treatment through Medicaid, as a payer of last resort for
drug treatment, “the cost to the state in minimal.”

Drug testing programs in some other states also have been less fruitful than many may have anticipated.

In Michigan, a year-long pilot program to test a law passed
in December 2014 allowing the state to test welfare recipients for substance
abuse identified only a sole recipient for testing, according to a report by
the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Arizona began requiring drug tests for welfare recipients if
the state had reason to suspect substance abuse seven years ago.

“We don’t want people who are abusing drugs to be on
welfare,” Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh said in
2009, “because that means that the taxpayers are subsidizing
and facilitating illegal drug use.”

Five years after implementing the rule, just 3 individuals had
failed the test.

Opinions may be split on whether states are crossing the
line by putting such provisions in place, but many agree that the root of the issue,
substance abuse, needs to be addressed more effectively.

“Addiction
crosses all socio-economic lines and all race and ethnic background,” Heather
Pfeifer, associate professor for the School of Criminal Justice at the
University of Baltimore, said. “It is a universal problem.”

The number of states interested in testing for substance
abuse continues to grow.

By March, a minimum of 17 states had proposals in 2016 to
address substance abuse and drug testing for welfare programs, according to the
National Conference of State Legislators.

Wisconsin DCF believes its rule helps addresses a
significant barrier to employment.

“Helping Wisconsinites with high employment barriers learn
the skills that lead to sustainable employment is the most effective way to
combat poverty,” Scialfa said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) disagrees with
drug testing welfare recipients.

On its website, the organization said lawmakers and other leaders
implement such programs to “score political points at the expense of some of the
nation’s most vulnerable communities.”

“Politicians need to end their baseless targeting of welfare
applicants and accord them the same respect and privacy they would anyone else,”
ACLU wrote.

Scialfa said that only individuals who refuse screening,
testing, or treatment are ineligible to participate in department employment
programs.

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