WASHINGTON -- Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) announced this week that certain poor people in the state will have to relieve themselves if they want to get a different kind of relief.
Anyone convicted of a drug-related felony who wants welfare in Maine will have to take a drug test in order to qualify. It won't matter if an ex-con has already served his or her time.
"Maine people expect their tax dollars to be spent supporting our most vulnerable citizens -- children, the elderly and the disabled," LePage said in a statement Wednesday. "We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction."
LePage's announcement is the latest in a yearslong string of Republican efforts to make government benefits contingent on drug testing. The most notorious case was Florida's 2011 requirement that anyone seeking benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would have to submit a urine sample, regardless of their record or any suspicion of drug use. Federal courts quickly nixed the measure on constitutional grounds.
LePage's plan is more cautious, since it will narrowly target applicants with felony convictions and allow people who test positive to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a treatment program. The Maine legislature approved the testing back in 2011, but LePage didn't announce plans to enact the bill until this week. State Rep. Mark Eves (D) questioned LePage's timing, pointing out that the governor is up for re-election in November.
"This new law has been on the books for years, yet LePage hasn't enforced it," Eves said, according to the Bangor Daily News.
States that have implemented welfare drug testing regimens haven't uncovered high levels of drug abuse. Only 2 percent of Florida's TANF applicants flunked tests in 2011.
Tennessee began a drug test program in July and recently announced its findings from the first month. Of more than 800 people who applied for cash assistance, four refused to answer questions about drug abuse, six submitted to testing and one failed.
The 1996 welfare reform law allowed states to ban people with drug convictions from welfare and food stamps altogether, but today most states do not enforce that ban.