The Future of Drug-Testing Programs in Maine

October 20, 2015 Posted by Michael Martin - No Comments

After a thoroughly objective evaluation of the many aspects and implications surrounding state TANF drug-testing programs, this series has reached its conclusion.  This comes with perfect timing, as one of the several initiatives proposed by the Maine GOP for the upcoming referendum question seeks to expand application of Maine’s TANF drug-testing program to all current or potential beneficiaries.

The proposal is akin to the current program targeting TANF recipients with former felony drug convictions.  It is accompanied by a mandate for those testing positive for substance-abuse issues to complete a treatment program in order to regain their eligibility.  This crucial component ensures this program benefits taxpayers, children of TANF families, and the public interest in discouraging public subsidizing of the illicit drug market.  Most importantly, TANF recipients facing the encumbering barriers contingent with substance-abuse issues hindering their capacity to regain self-sufficiency and employability stand to benefit most of all, as these treatment programs help alleviate their most significant barriers to moving from welfare to work.

Unfortunately, this proposed drug-testing program, like every other state drug-testing program, will face impediments to employing the most effective methods in identifying substance-abuse issues among TANF recipients due to the activist Marchwinski ruling.  However, as noted previously, a legal challenge to this ruling, given its direct contradiction to all Supreme Court precedents, would likely prove successful.

Notably, Maine’s current TANF drug-screening program has, almost unbelievably, defied the expected substance-abuser identification rates expected from experiences of other states employing ineffective screening methods such as CAGE and SASSI, as discussed in part IV of this series.  Perhaps this can be attributable to Maine abandoning the use of CAGE in screenings, originally employed in 2002 for governmentally sanctioned drug-screenings.

CAGE is a simple four question self-response survey acknowledged to be inferiorly effective when compared to the notoriously inefficient SASSI test, a promising adjustment towards creating as effective a drug-screening program as currently flawed federal case law permits.  Since Baldacci’s administration, Maine abandoned this appallingly ineffective drug-screening method in favor of its own screening methods, and changed who administered screenings to personnel more qualified for detecting substance-abuse issues in screened recipients.

The results speak for themself.  Fourteen of fifteen initially tested TANF recipients screened positive for substance-abuse issues, an identification rate unseen in any other state.  Maine now joins Utah as one of two states employing screening methods identifying substance-abusing TANF recipient rates with realistic accuracy, resulting in savings of taxpayer money.  Maine’s initial screening already saved the state $69,588 in taxpayer dollars, after just testing fifteen individuals.

As highlighted in part III, it must be emphasized how beneficial mandated multifaceted integrated treatment programs, like the program employed in the CASAWorks for Families study, are to TANF recipients suffering from substance-abuse issues.  The beneficial impact of such programs in assisting individuals overcome the most perilous barrier of moving from welfare to work, substance-abuse issues, is the most effective assistance a state can offer for achieving TANF’s primary objective.

All those opposing TANF drug-testing programs, and mandated treatment programs designed to qualify as a work participation requirement in addressing both substance-abuse problems and enhancing ones employability, are opposed to policies serving the best interests of substance-abusing TANF recipients.  Don’t let these naysayers, using arguments based on emotional appeal rather than factual merit, fool you into believing such policies marginalize, unfairly stigmatize, or disenfranchise the poor.  All these arguments, as thoroughly established throughout this series, hold no foundation to withstand neither factual nor logical scrutiny.

With that said, so long as mandated treatment programs designed similarly to that at CASAWorks for Families are included, and to the best of my knowledge they are, passing the referendum question entailing state-wide drug-testing for all TANF recipients could be one of the most effective welfare reforms seen in this state yet.  It certainly has my full support.