Thursday, November 10, 2011

Drug Testing Those on Welfare: A Wasteful and Stigmatizing Tactic.

During the summer, the state of Florida made it law that anyone applying for welfare benefits had to take a drug test before receiving said benefits. If you were applying for welfare you are required to pay for the drug test first. If you pass you are reimbursed for the test and you can receive the benefits. If you do not pass you are denied the benefits for a year, then you can retake the test and get your benefits if you come up negative.

This idea is becoming very popular among Americans who believe that drug testing welfare recipients will cut back on waste and stop the poor from spending their welfare money on illegal drugs. The reasoning behind this is that those who are currently on welfare will have to be drug tested, and if they are positive then the benefits are taken away, thus the ex-recipient will no longer receive money to spend on illegal drugs and the money saved can go to someone who is more deserving.

“Why should my tax dollars go to someone who is just going to buy drugs with it?”

This idea is expanding as well. Some states are considering mandatory drug testing for unemployed individuals who are applying for unemployment benefits, as well as drug testing for people who are participating in state job-training programs. These ideas are appealing to people and seem to be overwhelmingly supported.

But the truth is that mandatory drug testing for people applying for or already on welfare doesn’t do what supporters think it does. It is in actually wasteful, and more importantly can be unconstitutional.

Supporters highly believe that large numbers of people who use drugs go on to welfare to pay for their drug habit. When the law was enacted in Florida 38 out of 40 people who were first drug tested came up negative. That means only 2 came up positive for drug use, and 1 of those 2 individuals is appealing the results.

Why is this law so bad? Well for one it stigmatizes the poor. The idea that the majority of people on welfare are drug users that use their welfare money to buy illegal drugs only supports the stereotype that anyone who doesn’t make a lot of money is automatically a drug abuser. Also, it’s not very cost effective for the state either. Drug testing is thought of as a great way to save tax dollars, but that’s not factual. Think about it. In Florida if each drug test costs (lets assume in lowest terms) $50 and the state has to pay $50 back to the 38 people who passed their drug test then that means the state has just lost $1,900. That means the state only made $100 dollars from the two individuals who did not pass their drug test.

Now think of it on a much larger scale. If 100,000 people apply for welfare and are drug tested, and only 5% do not pass that means 95,000 people have to be reimbursed $50. That’s $4,750,000 that the state now has to repay to those who passed the test just to prevent 5,000 people from receiving welfare benefits. The state has only made $250,000 off of those who did not pass which means the state has actually paid back $4,500,000. But it’s worth it for so little revenue...right?


A study conducted back in 1996 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism showed that there is no significant difference in the rate of illegal drug use by those on welfare and those who are not on welfare. Another study showed that 70% of people between the ages of 18 and 49 use illegal drugs and are employed full time.

But let’s also take something else into consideration; the amount of time and money that is going to be wasted in court fighting this new law. The Fourth Amendment puts strict limits on what kind of searches the state can legally conduct, and drug tests are considered a type of search. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said that drug testing was an unreasonable search and that the state can only conduct drug tests in exceptional cases when the safety of the public is an issue. Bus and train operators should be drug tested because their job requires them to safely transport the public. And there is no real safety reason for drug testing welfare applicants, thus the law is unfair, wasteful, and more importantly unconstitutional.

The truth is that this law is aimed at stigmatizing the poor during times of economic hardships. Think about it, if the state of Florida was seriously concerned about drug use they would implement stricter laws regarding illegal drugs that are aimed at the entire population, and not just a certain class of people.

The idea that this laws saves tax dollars and curbs illegal drug use is bunk. You’re concerned that your tax money will be going to a small percentage of people who may or may not use the money on drugs. And now you’re paying for drug tests for the higher percentage of individuals who pass.


I understand fully that no one wants their tax money going to pay for someone's drug habit, I mean who would? Aside from the fact that we don't want to be enabling someone's drug habits, we also feel that welfare recipients should be doing something useful with the money we give to them like buying food and clothing and putting a roof over their head. Don't get me wrong, I'm not for people using drugs on welfare money. I just think that if you want to curb drug use or stop this kind of thing you should make stronger laws against illegal drugs that apply to everyone. Instead of doing that the state of Florida has gone into an all out class war.

Here's some more food for thought for you. It only takes 30-40 days of not smoking marijuana for a marijuana user to pass a drug test. It only takes a few days to a week for crack and meth users to pass a drug test, and people who abuse prescription drugs only have to stop for a few days for their systems to be clean as well. So how does this law work when all a drug user needs to do is discontinue using drugs for a short time so they can pass a test (a test that your state will have to reimburse the money on) and then start using again once they receive their welfare money (money that YOU will technically be giving them)?

This law makes no sense.

I know this blog is late in being posted as the law was enacted during the summer. I had to write it now because I see this poll being passed around Facebook asking people if they believe drug testing welfare recipients is a good idea. The results are an overwhelming “yes” vote. I believe this is because the majority of people believe the stereotype that most people on welfare are drug users who can’t get their life together, or believe that drug testing is an effective way to make sure deserving people get welfare money rather than undeserving and that this will save money for the state.

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