Should people seeking government assistance be required to take drug tests?
On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, also known as the Welfare Reform Bill, into effect ending welfare as it had been known for many years. “This law transformed the traditional entitlement to cash welfare under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into a transitional program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which requires most recipients to work after two years of receiving assistance, or, at state option, even earlier, with few exceptions. After 60 months of receipt during a lifetime, a recipient is ...view middle of the document...
“This bill is both compassionate and addresses the fact that if they have a drug problem, it’s going to be very hard for them to keep a job,” Osmond said.” (Davidson, 2012)
The Way Out (2012) article states: “Realistically, random drug testing for welfare recipients won’t save the state any money at first. In fact, people can expect costs to rise as a large number of people are herded into treatment. But if the goal is to get people off drugs, this is certainly one way to do it. Randomly testing a section of the population that is not normally tested for drugs would be a good way to reach these people. Then, as more and more of them get the help they need, we can expect fewer and fewer welfare recipients to fail the tests. Based on the response this story is getting so far, many taxpayers would prefer to have their money go toward real treatment for people, rather than free handouts that do nothing for the drug problem.”
Those opposed to drug testing people seeking government assistance believe it is unconstitutional and that the poor (people receiving government assistance) do not necessarily have a higher proclivity to using drugs than the working classing.
According to the Utah ACLU Issue Brief entitled “Drug Testing of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)”: “Drug usage among TANF recipients is no different than that in the general population. According to a recent study done by the University of Utah's Social Research Institute, 4.6 percent of those who receive assistance indicated drug addiction. 11 This is similar to statistics about Utah's general population. According to the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health's annual report in 2008, 4.9 percent of Utahn's were classified by the study as “needing treatment for drug and/or alcohol abuse.”
The most critical question posed is the cost effectiveness of drug testing welfare recipients. Drug testing is expensive! According to a Times Idea case study on drug testing the poor:
“Drug-testing laws are often touted as a way of saving tax dollars, but the facts are once again not quite as presented. Idaho recently commissioned a study of the likely financial impact of drug testing its welfare applicants. The study found that the costs were likely to exceed any money saved.
Other estimates include the cost of increasing staff to monitor or administer the tests, as in Maryland and Missouri. Idaho’s estimate includes the cost of making programming changes to the State’s information system. Florida’s law and Alabama’s proposal require the applicant or recipient to pay for the up-front costs of the drug test, though both would reimburse those who test negative. Most estimates do not incorporate costs relating to increased substance abuse treatment utilization or to increased child welfare interventions.
Examples of costs used in State cost estimates include:
* Purchasing the drug tests, including initial and retests
* Laboratory fees