What’s Your Vote on Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients: Yay or Nay?

Are states just wasting money by drug testing welfare recipients?

With Obama out of office, Republicans are looking to nix the limits his administration imposed on drug testing the unemployed. Instead, they want to make it easier for states to enact drug screening requirements for various forms of public assistance. It’s a move that mainly includes welfare recipients.

Proponents of this movement, which are mainly Republicans, see it as a way to hold them accountable and enforce work-suitable conduct, something they believe would benefit both taxpayers and job-seekers. They also say it’s meant to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t being wasted on those wanting to use their benefit money on drugs.

Previous Results Have Been Underwhelming

Opponents of the initiative see things differently. They feel this drug testing expansion is unnecessary, costly, and flat-out degrading to those seeking assistance. They also point to existing drug testing programs already implemented by several states which yielded underwhelming results.

At least 15 states currently have legislation on the books regarding drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients, and they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to weed out a very small number of drug users.

A great example is Arizona, who promised taxpayers in 2009 that it would save $1.7 million annually by drug testing welfare recipients. That same year, it tested 87,000 applicants and found only one drug abuser. In the state of Missouri during 2014, 446 of their 38,970 welfare applicants were tested – only 48 tested positive. To make matters worse, the budgeted cost for that year’s testing program was $336,297.

The data didn’t improve as time went on. In 2015, a survey of the 10 states that implemented drug testing programs for those seeking assistance, including Mississippi, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, showed they weren’t exactly worth what the taxpayers were paying for them. In fact, these states spent over $850,000 to test welfare recipients and uncovered just 321 positive tests overall. In more than one of these states, not a single substance abuser was discovered through drug testing.

Do Taxpayers Need a New Plan?

There’s already a huge stigma attached to citizens who need the government’s assistance; opponents of the initiative believe that adding an additional drug testing requirement may completely drive away those in need. Ultimately, however, it’s the taxpayers who are funding both the welfare and drug testing programs.

“Very few applicants have tested positive for drug use in states that have implemented these policies,” the Center for Law and Social Policy said in an issue brief last year. “Consequently, operating costs far exceed the fiscal savings from denying benefits.”

So, what do you think? Should welfare recipients undergo drug testing in order to continue receiving benefits? Give us your input and ideas in the comments section below.

Additional Reading: The Financial Toll of Addiction

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