Target: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam
Goal: End wasteful and discriminatory drug-testing requirement for welfare applicants
At the beginning of July 2014 Tennessee began implementing a new law that requires welfare applicants to be screened and possibly tested for drugs, based on the discriminatory assumption that low-income people will use their federal benefits for drugs or alcohol rather than food and other necessities. Families First, Tennessee’s version of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, now requires applicants to answer a few questions about potential drug use (among other questions). If any of those drug-related questions elicits a “yes,” the applicant will be forced to take a urine test or be refused benefits automatically. In a little over one month, the state has screened 812 applicants, only six of which submitted to the drug test (four declined to have their privacy invaded and were rejected). Of those six Tennessee locals, only one tested positive for drugs, which means that so far this new requirement has a disappointing success rate of 0.12 percent.
These results match those of other states who have implemented similar discriminatory laws, like Utah and Florida. Over the course of one year Utah wasted over $30,000 and found only 12 applicants who tested positive for drug use. Any savings from these new requirements are far outweighed by the administrative and testing costs incurred by the programs, and in some cases the costs have sunk attempts to implement drug testing rules. Virginia legislators rejected a similar after it was estimated that the $1.5 million proposal would reap under $230,000 in savings. Clearly legislators are reinforcing debilitating stereotypes and humiliating welfare applicants without any cause, and the cost of drug screening comes out of the federal benefits that these low-income Americans desperately need.
By signing this petition, you are urging Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to take action against this burdensome new requirement, acknowledging that it is groundless, wasteful, and discriminatory.
Dear Governor Haslam,
I am highly disappointed in the Tennessee legislature for implementing a new requirement that welfare applicants be subjected to drug screening. These increased administrative and medical costs associated with already dwindling federal benefits are crippling an already underfunded welfare system. The assumption underlying such a regulation is that low-income Americans use their federal benefits on drugs rather than food, when that has been shown time and again not to be the case. In other states with similar laws, these programs have shown a pitiful “success” rate, and Tennessee is no different: in the last month and a half this regulation has garnered one positive drug test result out of over 800 applicants. Therefore the screening process reveals that barely above one-tenth of one percent of welfare applicants use illicit drugs, which is several times lower than the rate of use of such drugs by the average Tennessee resident.
Despite the fact that welfare recipients stretch their dollars farther and spend more responsibly for their families than those who do not receive welfare, the Tennessee legislature has decided to penalize welfare applicants for needing help. Valuable welfare dollars are being spent to interrogate and harass low-income Tennessee citizens and the result is a colossal waste of federal benefits. I urge you to work to repeal this unnecessary, degrading, and wasteful requirement from Tennessee’s law books.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: US Navy via Wikimedia Commons