At High Cost And Little Yield, States Continue To Drug Test Welfare Recipients

| by Alexander Rubinstein
Drug Testing.Drug Testing.

In the first five months of 2015, at least 16 states proposed legislation that would require drug tests for public assistance beneficiaries. In recent years almost all states have made proposals. Some states have looked to test all welfare applicants, while others have only saught to test beneficiaries when reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing arrises. 

At least a dozen of the proposals come from Republican legislators, according to The Huffington Post. Republicans have also proposed constraints on food stamp purchases in several states, often focusing on mandating healthy foods. 

On April 8, Arkansas passed a bill requiring the Department of Workforce Services to establish a program for suspicion-based drug screening and testing for every applicant and recipient of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Federal rules allow for drug testing as part of the TANF block grant, though Florida’s 2011 law was deemed unconstitutional because it required blanket testing for all applicants. Federal courts found it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s promise that individual liberty should not be violated by unreasonable government searches.

In 2014, at least 18 states penned bills to require testing. On Dec. 24, Michigan passed a bill requiring the Department of Human Services to start and operate a program in three counties. Alabama passed a similar bill on April 10, 2014. Mississippi’s bill requires all TANF applicants to complete a questionnaire to determine the likelihood of drug use. In the first five months, 3,656 applicants were screened, 38 were required to get tested, and only two tested positive. This came at a cost of $5,290, reported ThinkProgress.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, At least 29 states made proposals in 2013. Kansas passed a bill requiring the Department of Children and Families to start a screening program. In six months, 2,783 TANF applicants were screened, 65 tested, but only 11 tested positive while 12 missed their appointment. The cost to the department was estimated to be $40,000. In July of that year, North Carolina passed a similar bill.

In 2012, at least 28 states made proposals, four of which saw legislation pass. Utah’s bill called for a drug use questionnaire. Utah screened 9,552 applicants. 838 were tested for drugs, and 29 tests yielded positive results. The cost was more than $64,000. Georgia’s law required testing for all applicants. In Tennessee, 16,017 applied for Families First, Tennessee’s version of TANF. Of the 279 tests administered, 37 applicants failed. The process cost the state $5,295. At a cost of $385,872 to the state of Oklahoma, 3,342 were screened, 2,992 were tested and 297 failed.

Of the 36 states that made proposals in 2011, only three enacted a law, including Florida’s unconstitutional law. Missouri spent $336,297 and only 48 tested positive. Of the 140,000 screened in Arizona, only 3 people tested positive for drugs.

Sources: The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Think Progress, National Conference of State Legislators

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