Welfare Recipients Must Pass Drug Test For Benefits

October 28, 2011

In 36 states over the past year, legislation has been proposed that would demand drug tests from anyone receiving aid from government programs. At first glance, it seems like a reasonable request to ensure that anyone using taxpayer’s money is utilizing the money to meet basic needs and not throwing it away on a substance abuse habit. The targeted benefits would include:

  • Welfare
  • Food Stamps
  • Job Training
  • Unemployment
  • Public Housing

In Arizona, Florida, Indiana, and Missouri, laws with mandatory drug tests in exchange for government assistance are already on the books. In fact, recipients in Florida have been made to pay for their drug tests for the past few months and the number of people receiving benefits has dropped to pre-recession levels.

Economic Conditions Instigates Attempts At Welfare Reform

Since both drug addiction and government-sponsored programs have been in existence for decades, why is there such a huge push for mandatory drug testing of recipients now? It appears the current economic and political climate in the US have pushed policy makers to find ways to cut spending. Since cutting taxes and overall costs is one of the main messages of the Republicans, numerous members of the party have spearheaded similar drug testing policies around the nation.

Detractors Question Validity of Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Despite some successes passing this type of legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union has brought lawsuits in reaction to it claiming the laws are considered unreasonable search and seizure. This defense actually caused a Michigan law that called for welfare drug testing to be overturned due to this constitutional protection.

In addition, some researchers and academics, such as Harold Pollack, PhD, of the University of Chicago believe those on government assistance are being unfairly singled-out. Pollack has analyzed this issue in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Substance Abuse Policy Research Program. This research partnership has shown that clinical drug addiction among welfare recipients is low. While one-fifth of them report using an illegal substance in the last year, most of it is recreational marijuana use that does not meet the criteria for either abuse or addiction.

What Pollack’s research has uncovered is that those receiving welfare do have higher rates of depression and generalized anxiety than the average population. Attempting to self-medicate may account for some of the casual marijuana use.

One more question critics of welfare drug testing want answered is whether or not the enforcement of these laws saves money in the end? With added legislation there is added bureaucracy to enforce it. There are concerns over whether the savings in unpaid benefits justify added administration costs.

What are your thoughts and opinions on welfare recipients having to take mandatory drug tests?

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