ATLANTA – State Sen. John Albers (R-District 56) spoke to students in Professor Courtney Anderson's Law and Social Welfare class on Aug. 22, at Georgia State University College of Law. Albers sponsored the senate bill identical to HB 861, also known as Georgia's Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, which was signed into law this past spring.
The act requires most applicants of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to submit to a drug test prior to receiving benefits. Albers discussed how the act was drafted to increase personal responsibility for welfare recipients while distributing Georgia tax dollars in a more efficient manner. “This legislation offers families in need a ‘hand-up' rather than a ‘hand-out,'" he said.
The act's supporters anticipate the legislation will help to break the cycle of poverty and drug abuse and ensure that government tax dollars are not being used to purchase illegal narcotics. Opponents of the act question whether receipt of government assistance should be conditioned on drug testing.
Students in the Law and Social Welfare class explore state and federal laws and policies addressing social welfare, including welfare reform, benefit programs, problems of the uninsured, and access to appropriate education, affordable housing, and safe environments. “Speakers are invited to the course to challenge students' views on issues and help them to present legal arguments in a way that anticipates the response of an opposing party," Anderson said.
In preparation for Albers' presentation, the students discussed the underlying policies and constitutionality of the act and read data produced by a number of organizations assessing the likelihood of the bill's effectiveness.
After Albers spoke, students had an opportunity to ask questions. Some expressed concerns that drug testing could add an additional barrier to receipt of public assistance for low-income families and cited studies showing that the number of Georgia families receiving benefits through TANF is decreasing while the number of such families in poverty is increasing.
Albers responded that children are the most vulnerable of the population receiving welfare and that laws must be passed to ensure their safety and that funds are used for their benefit.
Albers also observed that he had to submit to a drug test for his position as a volunteer fire fighter and for his position with a private employer. He explained that requiring individuals who receive a free entitlement to do the same thing is leveling the playing field.
“We are very appreciative of Senator Albers for giving his time to speak to our class," Anderson said. “It was a lively discussion and an invaluable experience for our students to be able to engage directly with the sponsor of legislation relevant to social welfare."
Stacie P. Kershner, JD
Associate Director, Center for Law, Health & Society