Sunday, January 29, 2012


Targeting & Criminalizing the Economically Disadvantaged

By Henry Curtis

Rep. Mizuno, Chair of the House Committee on Human Services held an Informational Briefing on January 26, 2012 to discuss HB 1710 and HB 1711.

HB 1710 requires applicants and recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits to submit to drug testing when reasonable cause exists indicating illegal drug use. Establishes ineligibility to receive benefits for one year for testing positive or refusing to submit to drug testing

HB 1711 requires drug testing for temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) applicants. Provides that applicants  who test positive for a controlled substance may receive TANF funds upon the successful completion of a 6-month substance abuse program

According to the informational briefing notice, the purpose of the hearing was to answer a few questions:  

Do these measures violate the U.S. Constitution's 4th Amendment right of unreasonable searches and seizures of the individual?

Private employers are allowed to drug test prospective employees.  Does this mean the government should be allowed to drug test welfare recipients or applicants?

Is there a relevant connection between TANF recipients and illegal drug use?

Are these measures unreasonably targeting or stereotyping TANF (public assistant) recipients and applicants?

Presentations were made by Pankij Bhanot (Deputy Director, Department of Human Services), James Walther (Department of the Attorney General), Laurie Temple (American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii), Alan Johnson (Hina Mauka), Kat Brady (Community Alliance on Prisons), Jeanne Ohta (Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i) and Larry Geller (Kokua Council).

Alan Johnson noted that Hina Mauka does drug testing for TANF. Drug use has been recognized as a health issue and drug testing is one tool that can help determine what treatment is needed. Unfortunately, the governmental funding source is drying up.

Pankij Bhanot, James Walther and Laurie Temple noted that singling out one group of individuals for warrantless drug testing is illegal.

Jeanne Ohta (Drug Policy Forum of Hawai‘i) noted that it is impossible to keep up with every new synthetic and designer drug. “Law enforcement cannot keep up with the purveyors of purportedly pleasurable substances. It is an easy matter to change a molecule here and there and come up with a new designer drug.” Drug testing has an unintended side effect where we learn about new designer drugs when people show up in hospitals.

Kat Brady (Community Alliance on Prisons): A study by Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago study found that “psychiatric disorders are much more prevalent than illicit drug dependence among TANF recipients.  So we are really talking about where we are going to put our resources.  We should put them where we need them.  In an article by a former District Attorney and Miami Prosecutor ...Jim Rockefeller, from the Rockefeller Law Center ...said: “It's ironic that we in a nation of opportunity, always turn on the downtrodden, in times of trouble.”  TANF doesn't just support individuals, we're talking about families. We're talking about children. And you know here we are trying to target one  population instead of trying to lift people up and give them the help they need in a time when resources are so precious.  To me it really breaks my heart that we would even consider this. ...The data is there. The court cases are there. We know that DHS, we know what they do. They give individualized service. This is about families, this is about children. Please don’t criminalize people because they are economically disadvantaged. Drug testing is not going to help.”

The Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan and the University of Chicago study  "Substance Abuse and Welfare Reform" (2004)  noted: “Our analyses also document that psychiatric disorders, especially major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, are more prevalent than drug and alcohol dependence among welfare recipients. ...While substance use, abuse, and dependence are barriers to self-sufficiency, so are poor
education, lack of transportation, physical and mental health problems, and many other difficulties that are more common than substance abuse among welfare recipients.”

Larry Geller (Kokua Council): “Its so obvious that children are affected. ...Governor Cuomo, of New York, in his State of the State speech” referred to  SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps) and TANF. “New York want to fingerprint [people] and for people to be throw out, and he said that “No child should go hungry in the great State of New York, and that we would do all that we can to prevent this.” ... Kokua Council met on Monday for a board meeting and we reviewed the two bills and since then we learned about HB 1885,  drug testing in public housing ...we heard the word nexus ...there is a nexus on this.  On all these bills, and you know what it is? You have introduced them.  And so, we also heard, that drugs problems affect all socio-economic classes. People who need public assistance and using state money, Don Horner at the Board of Ed, and he a member of a class, no different. State Legislators, why are you different from somebody receiving state money. So, I brought with me a plastic cup. There is place there, for you to put your name and the date.”

Rep Mizuno: “I wonder what Larry wants me to do with this”

Larry Geller: “I would like to suggest that anyone who introduces bills in the Legislature in the State of Hawaii, before they are allowed to introduce bills, be required to be drug tested. This makes sense to me. What I need to hear from you is why you introduced all of these bills that compromise our privacy.  We need to, as citizens, to resist every time these bills are introduced.”

Rep Mizuno: “Staying on the topic here, a constituent had asked, that I introduce these bills.”

Less than one year ago, on March 28, 2011, Chair Mizuno heard testimony on H.C.R. 246 and H.R. 209 urging “the Department of Human Services to explore the possibility of conducting random drug testing of adult individuals receiving public assistance and suspending this assistance if the individual tests positive for substance abuse.” 

The Department of Human Services (DHS) was under the same management as it is today: Director Patricia McManaman and Deputy Director Pankaj Bhanot. DHS testified on drug testing people on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and General Assistance (GA): “For TANF and GA recipients identified to be substance abusers, drug testing is already a requirement. Compliance is monitored by treatment providers.”

Kat Brady, Coordinator Community Affiance on Prisons, also testified: “HCR 246/HR 209 urges the Department of Human Services to explore the possibility of allowing government agencies providing government assistance to conduct random drug testing of adult individuals receiving public assistance and suspending this assistance if the individual tests positive for substance abuse. This is a recurring issue raised in times of economic strife where certain groups are scapegoated as the recipients of our collective anger. In 2004, a similar bill was introduced (HB 2923) and never made it to cross over.

Community Alliance on Prisons is in strong opposition to this resolution for the following reasons: ...

In 2003, a federal court struck down a Michigan law that would have allowed for
“random, suspicionless” [drug testing] saying it violated the US Constitution’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure. ...

The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMS) recommended against
implementing random drug testing of welfare recipients. CAMH believes that there was little benefit to testing and that the stigma associated with testing impacted those on welfare negatively. They recommended that resources be allocated towards better training for government workers to detect signs of substance abuse and mental disorders, as well as to greater assistance and treatment to those who need help.

In addition, mandatory drug testing of public assistance recipients is opposed by the

American Public Health Association,
National Association of Social Workers, Inc.,
National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors,
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence,
Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs,
National Health Law Project,
National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc.,
National Advocates for Pregnant Women,
National Black Women’s Health Project,
Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union,
Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. ...

In 1996, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that ‘proportions of welfare recipients using, abusing or dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs are consistent with proportions of both the adult U.S. population and adults who do not receive welfare.’” 

Lori Temple (ACLU of Hawaii) testified: “Suspicionless, mandatory drug testing is a discriminatory and unnecessary invasion of privacy, as well as scientifically, medically, and constitutionally unsound. Spending any amount of money on studying or implementing these programs is neither an appropriate nor an effective use of state funds. Public assistance recipients’ constitutional rights are no less sacred than the rights of any other state assistance recipients, including those of corporations that receive subsidies from the state. This bill would deny benefits to the neediest children and send the message to public assistance beneficiaries that they are criminals solely because of their socioeconomic level. As a defender of civil liberties, the ACLU of Hawaii believes that all people, rich and poor, are entitled to the same privacy rights. No one should have to choose between their constitutional rights and providing for their health and that of their families.”

Additional Information:

Larry Geller referenced the 2012 State of the State address by New York Governor Cuomo:  “No Child Should Go to Bed Hungry in New York. For all of our progress, there are still basic wrongs to right. There is never an excuse for letting any child in New York go to bed hungry. Statewide, 1 in 6 children live in homes without enough food on the table. Yet 30 percent of New Yorkers eligible for food stamps — over 1.4 million people — do not receive them, leaving over $1 billion in federal funds unclaimed every year. We must increase participation in the food stamp program, remove barriers to participation, and eliminate the stigma associated with this program. And we must stop fingerprinting for food. No child should go hungry in the great State of New York and we will do all that we can to prevent it.”

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