Maine Governor Paul LePage announced Wednesday that the state will begin enforcing a 2011 law requiring people convicted of drug-related felonies to pass a drug test in order to receive welfare benefits.
“Maine people expect their tax dollars to be spent supporting the most vulnerable citizens — children, the elderly and the disabled,” said LePage in a statement, via the Bangor Daily News. “We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction ... If someone tests positive for drugs, they are clearly putting their addiction ahead of their family’s needs. Being drug-free is a critical aspect of moving away from poverty and toward self-sufficiency.”
The drug test process is pending approval by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services and attorney general. If it moves forward, someone with a drug felony on his or her record will be required to take the test when applying for the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. If the result is positive, he either has to enroll in a state-approved substance abuse program or lose his benefits.
But finding a program might be difficult: according to The Boston Globe, LePage recently voted against federal funding that would have provided substance abuse services for about 70,000 Mainers. A substance abuse service provider in Bangor told the Globe that he had a waiting list of 80 people and only 28 beds.
Maine won’t be the first state to require welfare applicants to take drug tests. Tennessee enacted a similar law last month, while Florida’s drug test law was struck down in federal court last year—though not before 4,086 people were tested. Only 2.6 percent of those tests were positive, and Florida’s program ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved, according to The New York Times.
LePage, a Republican who Politico called “America’s craziest governor,” is currently running for re-election in a tight three-way race against Mike Michaud, a Democrat, and Eliot Cutler, an independent. Most polls show that Michaud has a narrow lead. Last month, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and Vermont governor Peter Shumlin, both Democrats, criticized LePage for missing a summit on the recent rise of opium overdoses and encouraged Mainers to vote for Michaud.