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Drug Testing Welfare Recipients


Posted on Aug 2017



In the recent past, there has been introduction of legislation y state legislators that require individuals who get public assistance, as well as welfare, public housing, and Medicaid to get tested for drugs. Such bills have been introduced on the basis of a belief that some individuals who receive welfare from the States use drugs, hence spoiling tax payers’ money (Bloom 34). As a result, there has been numerous debates in relation to the constitutionality of this act, with proposers and those who oppose the bill establishing solid reasons to back their claims. This paper looks at the different aspects of the drug-testing among welfare recipients, with the aim of describing the constitutionality as well as morality of the bill.

According to Newell (209), the drug-testing welfare laws are wrong, unconstitutional, as well as shortsighted. These laws deliberately isolate the poor from the society, with the assertion that they possess less of the right to privacy merely because they cannot make ends to meet. Florida was the first state to pass as well as implement this bill that requires every welfare applicant to be tested for drug, prior to giving them basic assistance. Four months following its implementation, a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Florida, referring the act as being unconstitutional. In 2013, among the 4,086 applicants for TANF in Florida, just 108 people tested positive. This stands for a mere 2.6% of all the applicants. Bloom asserts that the law by the state of Florida is absurd, taking into account the amount of money that was spent in carrying out the exercise, that is, $118,140 in just four months.

According to a survey conducted by Manpower Information, Inc., psychiatric disorders among employees in the place of work occurs due to a variety of causes, one of them being misuse of drugs. Research by Manpower Information, Inc. illustrates that employers are relatively unable to monitor their employees in terms of drug use, and most problems are usually discovered when the problem has escalated. From the findings presented from twenty-five organizations in 2008, one-sixth of the recipients were reported to be using illicit substances over the past six months.

The objective of testing welfare applicants for drugs is a way of assuring those who contribute in paying taxes that their money does not get wasted on individuals who subscribe for the welfare programs by the state, and goes ahead to use the assistance they receive for purchasing of drugs (Cohen 44). Drug testing ensures those in need are truly helped by the welfare. States have proposed drug testing of recipients and applicants of public welfare benefits since the reform of federal welfare in 1996.The Congress is in the race to find a common ground on how to extend unemployment benefits within the shortest time possible, carrying out drug test on the recipients of the aforementioned benefits promises to be a topic ready for compromise. However, the entire process is wrong because even those people who apply for the funds are as well taxpayers.

The issue of testing welfare recipients for illicit drugs presents a moral dilemma towards the government, where it is faced with the need of making sure that tax paid by Americans is put in the right use, as well as the need to help those individuals who are in dire need of the funds to cater for their basic needs. According to Dodie, “even though a few welfare recipients are struggling with the problems of illicit drug use as well as alcohol abuse, there is need for substance abuse prevention along with treatment services among the groups that are exposed to high risks” (56).

According to National Conference for State's Legislature, the federal rules of this bill allow the testing for drugs among the people who are applying for assistance from the welfare programs by various states. This approach is particularly used for screening the applicants so as to determine who will receive assistance from the welfare program kitty. Nevertheless, most of the proposals by the states to implement these proposals have been met with a lot of resistance, hence resulting to many lawsuits between individuals or organizations and the respective states.

Whereas there are cases where individuals who have applied for the welfare programs ended up using the funds to buy illicit drugs, these cases are very minimal. This is not morally upright as there are some other individuals who need the funds to carry on with their daily lives. Even though the program had very good motives, having the interests of those who direly need the funds allocated to welfare programs for the right reasons, the logic behind it defeats its purpose. This questions the constitutionality of the program as it is the right of all  the Americans who need assistance and apply for the funds, regardless of whether they use illicit drugs or not (NCSL).

The program of testing welfare recipients for drugs ought to be dropped due to its inefficiency in ensuring that the government is putting the public funds in the appropriate use. Different states have spent millions of dollars in conducting the exercise, yet very few welfare applicants have been found to test positive for illicit drugs. For instance, the state of Florida spent a lot of taxpayers funds in executing the procedure of drug-testing, funds which would otherwise have been put into much useful projects by the state (Lucas 112). Therefore, whereas the program is an essential one, it is not the most appropriate as it has led to wastage of public funds.

It is unconstitutional to test welfare applicants for drugs. Szyperski, in his book, refers to a number of sections from the U.S. Constitution in elaborating why he thinks that the approach is unconstitutional (78). He develops well-argued points in explaining why the testing of applicants is not moral or constitutional. All Americans have the right to receive welfare benefits if need be. The unconstitutionality of this program is the reason that will lead to its failure. Requiring screenings would serve as a key incentive to addicts to go for assistance so that they can regain their health, make positive contributions to society and support their families. Screenings would identify dependency cases and also be coupled with treatment programs to directly address the common worse problem in the victim’s lives. That is the reason why legislation is proposed to require drug screenings for unemployment insurance applicants. A non-invasive written test with an accuracy of 94 percent accuracy rate would be used for screening. If an applicant is suspected to have used drugs, then passing a drug test as a condition of benefits would be mandatory.

The proposal for this bill started gaining momentum in 2011. The legislation was then passed by three states in 2011, in 2012 four states enacted laws, legislation was again passed by two states in 2013, and in 2014 two states has passed legislation once more, this brings the total number of states that have taken action to eleven. In 2013, legislation was enacted in Kansas which required drug testing for recipients and applicants suspected of using drugs. Utah passed legislation in 2012 requiring applicants to fill a questionnaire screening for drug usage and legislation was passed by Georgia requiring drug tests for all applicants for Needy Families as a Temporary Assistance. Tennessee approved a bill requiring the department to come up with a plan for abuse of substance testing for applicants while Oklahoma approve  a measure which required all TANF applicants to be screened for drug use.

In conclusion, with America facing a national debt in excess of $14 trillion, the government cannot afford its agencies to carelessly spend tax dollars. With billions of dollars of the welfare funds being spent on illegal drugs or going to wrong places, what least we can do is to make sure that federal funds are being spent in the right manner. There are no doubts that many Americans are being faced by incredible challenges. With debt at crisis level, a staggering number of unemployed and an economy on life support we must do a better job collectively in helping our needy neighbors and being good stewards with means that are limited. Therefore, common-sense welfare reform, including recipients’ drug testing, is a very imperative step towards the right direction.