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In Tennessee, Welfare Drug Tests Yield Underwhelming Results

The state of Tennessee has completed its first year of drug testing welfare recipients, and the results were underwhelming, with less than .2 percent of all applicants testing positive.

There were 28,559 people who applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Tennessee over the past year, ThinkProgress reports. Of them, only 1.6 percent answered yes to one of the three questions on the application that would require them to take a drug test.

The questions, as previously reported by Opposing Views, are as follows:

1. In the past three months have you used any of the following drugs?

2. In the past three months have you lost or been denied a job due to use of any of the following drugs?

3. In the past three months have you had any scheduled court appearances due to use or possession of any of the following drugs?

Marijuana (cannabis, pot, weed, etc.)

Cocaine (coke, blow, crack, rock, etc.)

Methamphetamine/amphetamine type stimulants (speed, meth, ecstasy, X, ice, etc.)

Opioids (heroin, morphine, methadone, opium, buprenorphine, codeine, etc.

Out of the 468 who answered yes to one of the questions and took the required drug test, 11.7 percent -- 55 people to be exact -- tested positive.

Tennessee’s final percentage of drug users who applied for welfare benefits over the past year was only 0.19 percent. Thirty-two of those applicants were denied benefits for failing to complete the mandatory drug rehabilitation program after testing positive.

The state paid a total of $11,000 to test applicants, or $200 per failed drug test, according to Tennessee officials. This amount only accounts for what was paid to the outside vendor who conducted the actual tests and not inter-program costs.

The year-end figures of Tennessee’s welfare drug testing program are not surprising. In February, the state reported its six-month findings and only 37 of 16,017 welfare applicants tested positive for drugs.

That amounted to .2 percent of all applicants, a nearly identical figure to the year-end results.

Even with the Tennessee program's less than stellar results, other states may take their lead and also implement welfare drug tests.

"I do believe we should have random drug testing for people who are on social benefits," Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin of Kentucky said during a debate on Oct. 6, according to the Associated Press. Bevin clarified his answer later in the debate, adding that testing would only be for Medicaid recipients.

The seven states that perform drug tests on welfare recipients have spent about $1 million on the tests, based on research compiled by Think Progress. Each state has found that drug use by welfare applicants is far below the national average of all Americans, 9.4 percent.

Sources: Think Progress, Associated Press via The Republic, Opposing Views / Photo Source: Micah Baldwin/Flickr (2)


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