April 2014 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Since 1996, states have had the authority under federal law to require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.
In recent years, more and more legislatures have given serious consideration to using this authority, including a handful of states in the Midwest. Kansas and Minnesota are among the nine U.S. states with drug-testing laws already in place, and according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, at least 30 states considered bills last year (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and North Dakota among them). 

Children continue to be the poorest age group in America. Child poverty remained at record high levels in 2012, with more than 1 in 5 children identified as poor. This poverty leads to student achievement gaps, reductions in readiness for school, increased absenteeism, and developmental delays. Poor children also are less likely to complete high school - limiting potential employability and economic success in the future, and leading to poverty as an adult.

The more education a person attains, the better the chance he or she will get a job, earn a living, support a family, pay taxes and contribute to the community in which he or she lives.
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott campaigned on the issue of mandatory drug testing for parents enrolled in welfare. Almost as soon as the law was signed in 2011, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven put the law on hold. Gov. Scott appealed the preliminary injunction, but a three judge panel concurred.

Now Scriven has ruled the law unconstitutional, the Miami Herald reports. In her 30-page summary judgment issued Dec. 31, she wrote "there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied."

If state leaders want to know the effects of programs aimed at helping the poor, they can find the answers in alternative poverty measures. “States want to know what’s going on with the programs they are using to fight poverty and how well are they doing,” Timothy Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty and professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said during a CSG webinar.

Few changes have been made to the official federal poverty measure since it was adopted in 1969 despite growing concern over its accuracy and usefulness. To address these concerns, both governmental and nongovernmental organizations have developed alternative ways of measuring poverty.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses the federal poverty threshold to determine the poverty rate and count the number of people in poverty each year. That threshold, which has been calculated the same way for nearly 50 years, is often criticized for being outdated and inaccurate. 

<--break->The Economic Policy Institute offers an alternative measure of the income needed to afford an adequate standard of living. The...

We may have overlooked a key demographic shift as we stumbled into the 21st century. At some point in the prior decade, poverty in the suburbs began to grow at a faster rate than poverty in central cities. The number of suburban poor grew by 64 percent between 2000 and 2011; that’s more than double the rate for cities. This new, dispersed poverty offers some fresh challenges for policy makers. Being away from the bustle of the city was always the point of suburban living but this creates a unique transportation barrier as the poor are now  farther away from their jobs and traditional programs which serve them.

Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) grew from 28 million in 2008 to 44.5 million in 2011 due to the economic fallout of the recession. Program growth slowed from 2011 to 2012, posting just a 4.2 percent annual increase. As SNAP enrollment rose during and after the recession, the gap between poverty and SNAP enrollment began to narrow. However, in 2011, the latest year for poverty data, per capita food stamp enrollment was still below the poverty rate.

Almost every state in every region experienced increased poverty since The Great Recession. The only exceptions were North Dakota – where the mining boom has taken the state by storm – and the Southern states of Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma, where one might argue poverty couldn’t get much worse. Children continue to experience higher rates of poverty than the general population and seniors over 65 are considerably less likely to be poor. Regionally, the East and Midwest had lower poverty rates that the South and West.

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