NC JUSTICE BRIEF: Mandatory Drug Testing of Work First Applicants and Recipients would be Costly, Likely Illegal, and Ineffective at Identifying and Treating Drug Abuse

By Sabine Schoenbach, Policy Analyst & Tazra Mitchell, Public Policy Fellow
April 2013


  • North Carolina’s Work First program assists extremely low-income families get on the path to self-sufficiency. The majority of those benefitting from assistance are children.
  • In order to be eligible for Work First’s time-limited and meager benefits, workeligible recipients must participate in work requirements. In an economy where there are not enough available jobs, Work First’s role as a safety net for struggling families has been declining over time.
  • Suspicionless mandatory drug testing, as proposed by Senate Bill 594, would place additional financial burdens on struggling families as well as on the state. Research shows the proportion of welfare recipients with drug abuse problems is extremely low, meaning that the state would have to reimburse the vast majority of applicants and recipients for the costs of their drug tests. Universal drug testing is an unfunded mandate that could cost the state approximately $2.3 million for the testing alone.
  • Suspicionless drug testing of public assistance applicants and recipients likely violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. Other states’ statutes that were not based on individual suspicion have been deemed unconstitutional.
  • Suspicionless drug testing is an ineffective way to identify and address substance abuse. Without screening, blanket drug tests have been found to have significant limitations in identifying drug abuse.
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