Gov. LePage announced today that he is pushing forward with a plan to subject people with prior drug felony convictions to drug tests before they can receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. There's not much I can say about Gov. LePage's proposal that Aasif Mandvi didn't say best in this amazing Daily Show clip:

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The expansive Florida program covered in the clip forced all Floridians applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to take a drug test before receiving the much-needed assistance. That program was struck down as unconstitutional late last year, after the ACLU of Florida challenged the law on behalf Navy vet and single father Luis Lebron. In that case, the court found that mandatory drug testing of people just because they are poor violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. In fact, programs like this one raise all sorts of privacy concerns: without proper restrictions, the state may retain DNA information about individuals. And tests that screen for drugs can also reveal other, highly personal medical information. 

Perhaps sensing that a copy-cat program in Maine wouldn't pass the straight-face test, the LePage administration proposal would limit the testing to TANF applicants with a previous drug felony any time in their history - for now. Department of Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew stated in an interview yesterday that she would like to expand the mandatory testing to as many people as possible.

Regardless, keep in mind that, in Maine, being caught with even one tablet of painkiller hydrocodone can result in a felony conviction. It's hard to see how being caught with one hydrocodone even 20 years ago constitutes reasonable suspicion of drug use strong enough to override the Fourth Amendment.

The governor has admirably said that those who fail the test will have the opportunity to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a drug treatment program; what he fails to account for, though, is that under this administration there have been serious cuts to Maine's available drug treatment programs - and those in existence face serious budget and capacity shortfalls. If there are no programs available, will people be turned away from TANF benefits as well as treatment? In the end, if we really want to help families overcome addiction, shouldn't we be putting more resources and energy into expanding treatment options, rather than yanking out the safety net that helps them get food?