Chicago Housing Authority Drug Testing
There have been a few proposals throughout the country recently that involve drug testing among low income citizens. This is one issue that people tend to fall strongly on one side of or the other, with very few people in between.
Florida just passed a law that requires drug testing for people that wish to apply for state welfare benefits. Other states have looked at similar measures. Now, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) is hoping to be able to test all resident who benefit from public housing in the city. The new proposal, which would be the first in the nation, would allow CHA to test all applicants over 18 years of age, as well as current residents who renew a housing lease. Anyone who tests positive for drugs would be directed to a drug treatment program at no cost to them. Those who refuse treatment would face eviction.
Opposed to Drug Testing
Those opposed to the measure state that the program would punish the poor and that it targets low income, African Americans who find themselves in need of the assistance. “Current tenants find the proposed measure degrading – and it treads dangerously on their Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful search and seizure. A lot is on the line for an expensive experiment that might not produce results, but will definitely cause harm.” (1)
They say that the new measures unfairly increase the stereotypes about people in low income housing projects, making people feel that they are all drug users and criminals. They also say that it is discriminatory in nature because it does not require middle income people living in the same areas to be tested.
In Favor of Drug Testing
Those in favor of the CHA proposal argue that when people sign up for public assistance they should be drug tested, much like an employer requires testing for new employees. Federal employees are required to go through testing, so it shouldn’t be a problem testing people who are going to receive taxpayer-funded benefits like housing. They say that if taxpayers are going to pay for benefits, they are entitled to know they are not enabling someone to continue their drug abuse.
The CHA’s proposal would provide free drug treatment to those who fail the test, so that in the long run they and their family would benefit, rather than be the victims. “It’s too simple to respond that poor people have ‘no choice,’ that they are forced by their ‘circumstances’ to seek public subsidies. And that their circumstances have led them into substance abuse so, by implication, they can’t be held responsible. As if the only truly compassionate alternative is to look the other way and hope that those creating a hellish nightmare for their neighbors will somehow see the light and end their abuse on their own.” (2)
There are many who are concerned about the cost for such a program. States are struggling to avoid deficits, and shelling out extra funds to help people get off drugs can be a big commitment. However, for those states that begin to realize the benefits of treatment and prevention in the long run, they realize it may be worth the extra cost up front.