ND House Defeats Bill Requiring Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients


Rep. Dennis Johnson’s bill, HB1385, originally would have required drug testing for all recipients of public assistance. As I wrote yesterday, the bill got watered down over concerns about the legality of applying this to the SNAP (food stamps) program and privacy considerations in general.

Today even that watered down version of the bill failed in the state House.

The full debate is here. Rep. Dan Ruby, in arguing for a “yes” vote on the bill, referenced some of the public records information I requested about the TANF program specifically:

As I wrote previously, 48% of TANF benefits in North Dakota are spent on fast food, eating out, ATM’s and video rentals. That doesn’t necessarily have a lot to do with drug testing for TANF recipients, but it was pertinent to the debate on the floor.

The loudest argument against the bill, coming from Representatives Bette Grande and Chet Pollert, had to do with TANF being the wrong program to target. They pointed out that 45% of the program applies to children, and that it’s not right to apply drug testing to a program like that.

Which is a strange argument. Those benefits are collected, on behalf of the children, by an adult. Shouldn’t we want to make sure, then, that the adult in question isn’t diverting some of those benefits to feed a substance abuse habit? Arguing that TANF goes mostly to single moms and kids isn’t a valid argument against ensuring the adults who get, and spend, the benefits are drug free.

And the privacy issues don’t concern me. Government benefits are not mandatory. Nobody is forcing anyone to take a drug test. It would only be established as a prerequisite for getting benefits. Or, as in the amended version of the bill, it would only enable social workers to request a drug test if they suspect those collecting the benefits are taking drugs.

It’s hard to imagine why we’d vote against that. It’s hard to imagine why we wouldn’t want to give those on public assistance a big reason to stop using drugs. But the House decided to vote against accountability.