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Welfare Drug Testing And Why It Doesn’t Work

While the phenomenon hasn’t caught on across the entire United States, many individual states have begun mandating that citizens undergo urine drug testing before receiving welfare or other forms of governmental assistance. The rationale behind this decision seems reasonable enough—with the availability of public funds in such a constant state of jeopardy, it makes sense that states would want to ensure that money is being used as it should be. However, in reality, these drug tests are actually ineffective and in some cases, discriminatory. There’s no doubt that states should have processes in place that make sure government money is being used wisely, but drug testing is not the answer to this problem.

Where is Welfare Drug Testing Currently Mandatory in the United States?

There are currently 8 states with welfare drug testing laws on the books and many others that have attempted to pass similar legislation. However, it’s important to note that each of the states’ individual laws are not identical to one another. For example, while Arizona passed one of these laws, it was only a temporary measure for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Unlike them, Missouri, Florida, Utah, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Kansas have laws that mandate drug testing indefinitely.

It’s also important to note that many of these laws have not gone unchallenged. In 2011 the American Civil Liberties Union successfully filed a lawsuit to keep the Florida welfare law from being enforced. While Governor Rick Scott appealed the decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, and the law has not been successfully implemented since.

What’s Wrong With It?

Even though many of these laws have been passed around the country, they have yet to prove their effectiveness. In fact, some states have actually reported losing money from these projects instead of saving government funds like predicted. For example, before the Florida welfare law was struck down in court, it ran successfully for four months in 2011. During those four months, a little over four thousand welfare recipients underwent drug testing. However, of those four thousand people, only 2.6% of them tested positive for illegal substances—most of them for marijuana, which is not even considered illegal in every state. On average, a urine drug test costs $30, which means that the state of Florida spent about $120,000 to test those four thousand recipients—much more than the amount of assistance they would have provided to those who failed the drug test.

Another issue facing supporters of mandatory welfare drug testing is the problem of discrimination. Some states with these laws do not require that every recipient be tested. Instead, only those who are deemed “suspicious” need undergo the procedure. Considering that most of the laws have been passed in southern states, it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to think that welfare screeners would discriminate unfairly against non-white recipients.

At best, mandatory welfare drug testing is a misguided plan to help cut back on government spending; at worst it’s a spiteful attack on the most vulnerable and powerless in our society. Either way, it’s effectiveness has no basis in reality, and hopefully, concerned citizens from these states will take action to have the laws repealed.