NASHVILLE - Officials say four people have been disqualified from receiving welfare benefits in Tennessee because they refused to comply with a new law that requires them to submit to drug testing.
The Tennessean reports six others submitted to testing and one of them failed. The Department of Human Services told the newspaper that agency officials would get in touch with the person who tested positive. Further actions could include referral to a treatment program in order to get benefits or disqualification if the person doesn't participate.
The new law that went into effect on July 1 requires new applicants to the Tennessee Families First cash assistance program to fill out a questionnaire asking whether they have recently taken drugs and whether they lost a job or had court appearances scheduled in the last three months because of drug use. All but 10 of the 812 applicants answered no to the questions, avoiding the drug testing requirement.
Supporters and opponents of the law say they are keeping watch on how welfare applicants are affected.
"I think this is a positive step, and I hope that individuals get the help they need," said state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who wrote the law and noted that it directs state officials to connect applicants who test positive to treatment programs.
Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, says she believes the law is a violation of privacy and the group is planning to challenge it in court."
"We don't test individuals who are seeking government support like farmers, veterans and students, so we have to take a step back and question why limited-income people are being targeted and have to submit to these intrusive searches," Weinberg said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Tennessee is one of at least 11 states to mandate drug screening for welfare recipients.