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Tennessee Denies Public Assistance To Drug Users

Posted: August 4, 2014

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The state last month began requiring welfare applicants to detail their drug history. It's the latest attempt to find a constitutional way to deny assistance to people who use illegal drugs.

Welfare recipients in Tennessee now have to declare any prior drug history when they apply for public assistance.

The vast majority of applicants said they were not drug users, but those who skipped the question were denied assistance, Bobby Allyn of member station WPLN reports for our Newscast unit.

Supporters of the requirement say it's not intended to penalize drug users — they can get help in other ways — but is meant to keep public funds from being spent on illegal drugs. Its opponents say it unfairly penalizes some of society's most vulnerable people.

Federal welfare rules have permitted drug testing since 1996, but states have struggled to come up with a method that can pass constitutional muster.

Courts have ruled out random drug testing. A 2011 Florida law that required all applicants to provide urine samples was found to violate the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The issue has come up repeatedly in Congress, and 11 states have passed laws to address it since 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But some of those states, including Georgia and Mississippi, have delayed implementing the requirements until they can determine whether their plans are likely to satisfy legal challenges.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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