Jan 30, 2014 | PERMALINK »
Suspicionless Drug Testing Ruled Unconstitutional; States Shift to Propose Suspicion-Based Laws
On December 31, the federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida issued final judgment on the state’s 2011 law mandating suspicionless-based drug testing for TANF applicants. This judgment affirms that the law violates TANF applicants’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches, and is consistent with a Michigan court’s ruling against a similar 2003 law in that state. The final judgment indicated that “the State has failed to show that the general welfare of children is at greater risk absent its drug testing or that Florida’s children will be better protected because of mandatory testing of TANF applicants.”
The implementation and subsequent ruling against the Florida law shows that suspicionless drug testing is unconstitutional, ineffective, and costly. In the four months that Florida administered universal drug testing before an injunction was issued, the state found that just 2.6 percent of applicants had failed the drug test. The program cost the state an additional $45,780—more than the TANF benefits that would have been paid to individuals who failed the test.
With courts across the country consistently striking down suspicionless drug testing, states should abandon these efforts and avoid costly litigation. Many state legislators have recognized that and are shifting towards proposing bills to adopt suspicion-based testing, meaning applicants would first be screened to determine the likelihood that they may be using illegal drugs. Only those who are deemed at high risk of drug usage would then be chemically tested.
However, states should take a step back and reconsider whether up-front screening and testing is the best way to address substance abuse issues among families seeking cash assistance. Even with a preliminary screening, it is still problematic to identify substance abuse over substance usage in the eligibility determination process. Assuming that individuals applying for public assistance are poor because of bad choices such as substance abuse is stigmatizing and costly and adds unnecessary burdens to families seeking assistance.
Many states have long addressed substance abuse issues in TANF in other, more effective ways. Screening is most effective when included as part of an employability assessment—after eligibility has been determined. Regardless of when screening occurs, the process should lead to treatment, rather than punitive sanctions that discourage recipients from seeking help to overcome addiction. States should waive penalties for individuals who enter treatment but should also ensure treatment is available and that no TANF applicant is sanctioned while waiting for it.
TANF is a lifeline for families in crisis, a temporary support for families combatting poverty. Suspicionless drug testing laws like those in Florida and Michigan are proven to be ineffective, wasteful and only perpetuate the struggles of low-income people. There’s a better way forward—for families and for states.
Sep 12, 2013 | PERMALINK »
Subsidized Employment Helps Long-Term Unemployed Reconnect to Workforce
Stimulating Opportunity, a new report from the Economic Mobility Corporation, highlights the role subsidized employment programs can play in reconnecting long-term unemployed workers to the workforce. This report examines in depth the experiences of workers and employers who participated in subsidized employment programs in five sites under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund. As CLASP documented, between 2009 and 2010, 39 states used TANF Emergency Funds to support subsidized employment opportunities for more than 260,000 workers.
Stimulating Opportunity finds that, even after the subsidy period has ended, subsidized employment can have a significant positive impact on low-income job seekers’ employment and earnings. These effects were largely concentrated among those job seekers who had been unemployed for more than six months prior to starting the program. While comparison group data was only available for one site, Florida, the pattern of employment in other sites appears consistent with these findings. This suggests that, in a period of limited resources, subsidized jobs programs may wish to target participants without recent work experience.
Aug 19, 2013 | PERMALINK »
Support for Low-Income Families Falls Again
Spending data released by the Administration for Children and Families shows that state spending of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and related state maintenance of effort (MOE) funds declined again in federal fiscal year 2012. States reported spending or transferring to related programs a total of $31.36 billion, down nearly $2 billion from fiscal year 2011.
As a result, spending declined in nearly every category on which TANF and MOE funds may be used. The categories with the largest decreases were basic assistance (down $622 million), child care (down $500 million, including both spending within TANF and transfers to the Child Care and Development Block Grant) and work-related activities (down $485 million, driven largely by a $356 million decline in spending on wage subsidies). The category with the largest increase was “other non-assistance” with a $129 million increase. Data collected from the states in 2011 showed that this category was used to report spending in a wide range of areas, but that the largest shares were spending on child welfare services and TANF program expenditures such as case management.
Most states had less federal TANF funds available to them in FY 2012 than in FY 2011, as they had less carryover funds from the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund (ECF) remaining. Three states were required to return a portion of their awarded funds based on reconciliation of their final spending reports. This process also led to many states retaining the remaining carryover funds as unobligated balances. In addition, the 17 states that had historically received additional funding from the supplemental grants also experienced the loss of these grants, which were not funded in 2012. Total state spending climbed while MOE fell by $693 million, with California accounting for $317 million of that decline.