Clarifying Exactly How Maine’s New Drug-Testing Program for TANF Recipients Works


This is the first installment of a weekly series focused on discussing how drug-testing programs for TANF recipients benefit the state, taxpayers, and most of all the recipients themselves.  It is proper to begin by clarifying the facts surrounding Maine’s current drug-testing program.  In addition, a syllabus of the entire series’ topics is provided at the bottom.

In April, Governor LePage initiated a new drug-screening requirement for TANF recipients with prior felony drug convictions.  According to federal law, these individuals are ineligible for TANF benefits, unless states opt to grant them eligibility, something only Maine and four other states have.

The new law, 22 MRSA § 3104, incorporates a questionnaire-based method to initially screen recipients, which provides information to administrators on if there is a reasonable likelihood an individual has a substance abuse disorder, or is abusing substances illegally.  If the initial screening comes back positive, a subsequent chemical urinalysis test is administered.

Those whom test positive for drug use are deemed ineligible for benefits unless they agree to enter into, and follow, the requirements of a substance abuse disorder treatment plan.  This includes receiving treatment from an approved substance use disorder treatment provider for at least ninety-days.  It also requires the recipient tests negative for illegal use of substances in each drug test required by the department during treatment, including a final drug test given at the conclusion of treatment.  This program comes at no personal expense to the individual, and law mandates DHHS provide those testing positive with a list of approved substance abuse treatment providers in their area.

Those refusing to enter a substance abuse treatment program, or who fail to meet the requirements of their substance abuse treatment plan, are ineligible to receive benefits for ninety-days.  If the individual participates in a drug treatment program, but fails a drug test, the first positive result yields a ninety-day suspension, and a second positive test within one year mandates a year suspension.  In the case of a third positive result within five years, a ten-year ban for TANF benefits is instituted.  The same rules apply for a first and second refusal to take a drug-test when required, however no ten-year ban exists for a third.

There is an abundance of testing centers; fifty locations currently exist throughout the state. To maximize convenience, DHHS reimburses all travel expenses, and rescheduling is permitted at any time.  The current cost of the program amounts to only $624 thus far, paid for through a federal block grant, meaning Maine taxpayers are not footing the bill.  Furthermore, given these recipients are currently enrolled in TANF, when called upon for screening, all transportation, childcare, and other costs relative to complying with the mandate are covered by the state.  It costs these individuals nothing whatsoever.

This drug testing law only targets TANF beneficiaries with past felony drug convictions.  Out of the 5,700 TANF cases in Maine, this only includes roughly one hundred people.  The program is constitutionally sound, according to the Courts, even the widely condemned ruling in Marwchwinski v. Howard in 2000, a topic discussed later in the series.

The most recent June drug test found thirteen individuals to be ineligible due to a positive drug test, or their refusal to appear for either the initial drug screening, or secondary urinalysis test.  Thus the program has already saved the state money, as LePage intended.  Each TANF family expects to receive roughly $19,871 a year in untaxed benefits.

Doing the math, fourteen individuals at $19,871, given they continue refusing compliance, would be a yearly savings of $258,323.  Subtracting the meager $624 cost of the program wouldn’t be appropriate, as these funds come from the federal government rather than the state.

If these individuals comply with a treatment plan, as one would hope, ninety-days of ineligibility is equal to an average of $4,967 per individual saved (¼ of yearly benefits).  These savings come while they receive valuable assistance addressing their substance abuse disorder.  That still makes for a total savings of $69,588 already, following the first round of drug-tests.

The incentive provided by mandating substance abuse treatment, for those testing positive should they wish to continue receiving benefits, is the most crucial component of this program.  It reflects thoughtful consideration of the forceful approach necessary to influence substance abusers to seek help.  Substance abusers and addicts aren’t particularly known for voluntarily seeking the help they need, and rigid incentives are necessary to benefit these individuals in the long-term.

This mandate also reflects the attention paid to the overwhelming evidence one finds in numerous studies on the topic of substance abuse treatment programs for TANF recipients with drug abuse issues.  The evidence from these studies has shown that substance abuse treatment programs significantly improve TANF recipient’s ability to attain self-sufficiency, and move from welfare to work.  Nothing is more important than that.



This weekly series will cover the following topics, and new installments will come every Wednesday exclusively on The Maine Wire:

  • Next Week, September 2nd: Responding To Recent Criticisms in the Media of Maine’s New Drug Testing Program.
  • Week Three, September 9th:  How Columbia University’s CASAWORKS Study Changed the Lives of Hundreds of Former Drug-Abusers on TANF forever.
  • Week Four, September 16th: The Judicial Misfeasance of Marchwinski v. Howard: How a Ruling Overwhelmingly Condemned by Scholars of Jurisprudence Has Crippled State’s Ability to Effectively Implement Welfare-Drug Testing Programs.
  • Week Five September 23rd:  Subsidizing the Black Market: Reviewing the Overwhelming Evidence that sellers and users of Illicit Drugs Take Advantage of Programs Without Drug-Testing Eligibility Requirements.
  • Week Six, September 30th:  Drug-Testing for TANF: Facts about the Substance Abuse rates Amongst TANF Recipients nation-wide, and Why Mandated Abuse-Treatment Benefits Abusing Recipients Most of All, and Why those Opposed to Drug-Testing Unintentionally Cause Far More Harm than Good.
  • Week Seven, October 7th:  The Future of TANF Drug-Testing in Maine: What Is To Come?