Drug testing for certain welfare recipients has begun in Pennsylvania.
Under Act 22 passed by the Legislature last year, anyone who receives welfare benefits and who has a felony drug conviction in the last five years can be randomly tested for drug use.
Those who fail can go into treatment. If they fail again, they lose their welfare benefits for a year. If they fail a third time, they’ll never get welfare again.
The pilot program was launched in Schuylkill county in January. Supporters said it will cut down on abuse, waste, and fraud.
“Local taxpayers across Pennsylvania do not want their hard-earned tax dollars being used to pay for somebody’s illegal drugs,” said Sen. David Argall.
Others say there are legal issues.
“A drug test is considered a search, so whether the outcome is welfare benefits or getting on a plane, the government is prohibited from doing searches without suspicion,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. “That’s what this is, a search without suspicion.”
Other states have tried it, only to have the courts rule it unconstitutional, but those states required all welfare recipients to be tested.
The program will be expanded to Northampton and Lehigh counties next month and to the rest of the state by summer.