A bill that would require welfare recipients to undergo random drug tests is currently making its way through the Vermont legislature.
The idea is not unique to Vermont. Twelve other states — Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah — have passed legislation regarding drug screening for public assistance recipients. Florida’s law, which demanded a drug test along with every welfare application, was ultimately deemed unconstitutional.
Still, the idea that welfare recipients should be drug-free is a popular one. To a certain extent, it makes sense. People receiving money from the government shouldn’t be spending that money on drugs. States should be sure that their allocated funds will be put to good use. On the other hand, addiction is a public health issue. People who use drugs need help, and forcing them to remain impoverished is not the answer. It only makes it harder for those at the bottom to get out.
We created a survey to find out how the public feels about this issue, posing the question: “Should passing a drug test be required in order to receive welfare?” The majority of respondents — 69.5 percent — answered, “Yes.” Just 30.5 percent responded, “No.”
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The popular support for drug testing is interesting, especially considering the programs basically haven’t been working. Only 37 applicants out of a pool of more than 16,000 failed drug tests during six months of testing in Tennessee. In Florida, during the four months before its law was ruled unconstitutional, just 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive.
Our survey represents the way the majority of the country feels about welfare drug testing. More and more states are enacting legislation that has that as a requirement. With the GOP back in control of Congress, with a shot at retaking the White House in 2016, it’s likely that that support will only continue. If that's what the public wants, then that's the way things should be. It's simply unfortunate that those making the laws about welfare have never had to experience the system themselves.