Drug testing welfare recipients

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Some states in the United States of America have enacted or proposed legislation requiring drug testing of people applying for welfare. As of early 2017, 15 US states had passed legislation enabling drug testing of welfare applicants or recipients, primarily in relation to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments.[1] Drug testing of welfare recipients has been proposed but not implemented in Canada and the UK,[2] and a trial program is being considered in Australia.[3] In New Zealand, recipients of some payments may be required to take a drug test if this is a requirement of a potential employer or trainer.[2]

Arguments for[edit]

Proponents of such programs have supported them with a variety of goals in mind, including: getting help for drug users on welfare payments by referring those testing positive to treatment, avoiding "subsidizing drug habits" with public money,[4] deterring drug use, reducing state welfare spending, and protecting children.[5][6]

Arguments against[edit]

Opponents have criticized these laws for costing more money than they save.[7] The cost per positive test varies because of differences in state programs, but a review of 14 programs in 2016 reported costs per positive test result of between $200 (Tennessee) and $7,006 (Missouri).[8] Eric Liu has criticized drug tests of welfare recipients, which are often promoted by Republican lawmakers, as hypocritical, as they promote government paternalism.[9] Some suggest drug testing welfare recipients is linked to discrimination against welfare recipients or to racism.[10][11] Executives of the non-profit group CLASP have stated that the laws will have a chilling effect on the willingness of existing welfare recipients to admit themselves to drug treatment.[12] Additionally, public policy professor Harold Pollack wrote that "Other physical and mental health problems are far more prevalent. Yet these less-moralized concerns receive much less attention from legislators or the general public."[13] The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed welfare drug testing laws in Florida and expressed concern about the proposal gaining traction in other states.[14] Almost all scholarly articles on the subject of suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients has concluded that this testing violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution[15] (for this reason many programs now involve initial screening with a psychological assessment tool, with those considered likely to have a drug problem then referred for testing[8]). The ethical acceptability of drug testing welfare recipients has also been questioned.[5][16]

Laws by state[edit]


In 2009, Arizona enacted a drug-testing law for welfare applicants that have a felony drug conviction.[17]


In December 2013, federal judge Mary Stenson Scriven struck down a Florida law, passed in May 2011, that required welfare recipients to be drug tested before they could receive benefits.[18] Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, had endorsed the legislation, and said he intended to appeal Scriven's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.[19]


In April 2014, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed a bill requiring drug testing for welfare applicants "if authorities have a 'reasonable suspicion' of drug use."[20]


In 1999 a pilot program of drug testing welfare recipients was introduced, but terminated after a legal challenge that it violated the Fourth Amendment.[1] In December 2014, Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, signed a bill beginning a pilot program whereby welfare recipients in three Michigan counties will be drug tested if they are suspected of having used drugs.[21]


From August 2012 to July 2013, Utah spent over $30,000 on drug testing welfare applicants. State Representative Brad Wilson claimed in September 2013 that the program had saved more than $350,000 based on a drop of 247 applicants for TANF after the drug testing was instituted.[22]


Scott Walker, the former governor of Wisconsin, has previously endorsed drug testing for welfare recipients.[23]

Positive drug test result rates[edit]

In a pilot drug testing program in Florida in 1999-2000, 5.1% returned a positive urinalysis.[24] A 2015 study by ThinkProgress found that out of seven states reporting data on welfare drug testing, only one had a usage rate above 1%.[12] Analysis of data on US state programs provided by CLASP shows that of the total population screened in 9 states, 0.19% returned positive tests, or 0.57% if refused tests (where reported) are treated as positives (see data in appendix D).[8]


  1. ^ a b Legislatures, National Conference of State. "Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients and Public Assistance". www.ncsl.org. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  2. ^ a b Wincup, Emma (2014). "Thoroughfares, crossroads and cul-de-sacs: drug testing of welfare recipients". The International Journal on Drug Policy. 25 (5): 1031–1037. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.02.011. ISSN 1873-4758. PMID 24709412.
  3. ^ Arthur, Don. "Drug testing for welfare recipients". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  4. ^ Grovum, Jake (6 March 2014). "Some states still pushing drug testing for welfare". USA Today. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  5. ^ a b Walker, Mary Jean; Franklin, James (2018-10-25). "An Argument Against Drug Testing Welfare Recipients". Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. 28 (3): 309–340. doi:10.1353/ken.2018.0019. ISSN 1086-3249. PMID 30369508. S2CID 53102270.
  6. ^ Jeffrey, Widelitz (2011). "Florida's Suspicionless Drug Testing of Welfare Applicants". Nova Law Review. 36 (1).
  7. ^ Cunha, Darlena (15 August 2014). "Why Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is a Waste of Taxpayer Money". Time. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  8. ^ a b c "Drug Testing and Public Assistance". CLASP. 2016-02-04. Retrieved 2018-11-02.
  9. ^ Liu, Eric (18 December 2014). "Wall Street CEOs should take drug test". CNN. Retrieved 2 January 2015. ...it's the height of hypocrisy for limited-government conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who claim they want government out of people's lives, to champion such intrusive, shaming forms of paternalism.
  10. ^ Ledford, Chris (2016-11-10). "Symbolic Racism, Institutional Bias, and Welfare Drug Testing Legislation: Racial Biases Matter". Policy Studies Journal. 46 (3): 510–530. doi:10.1111/psj.12192. ISSN 0190-292X.
  11. ^ Amundson, Kalynn; Zajicek, Anna M.; Kerr, Brinck (2015-07-30). "A Social Metamorphosis: Constructing Drug Addicts From the Poor". Sociological Spectrum. 35 (5): 442–464. doi:10.1080/02732173.2015.1064799. ISSN 0273-2173. S2CID 141852776.
  12. ^ a b Covert, Bryce; Israel, Josh (2015-02-26). "What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients". ThinkProgress. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  13. ^ Pollack, Harold (2013-06-05). "States want drug tests for welfare recipients. That's a terrible idea". Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  14. ^ Ganeva, Tana (2015-10-17). "5 reasons drug testing welfare recipients is profoundly stupid". Alternet. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  15. ^ Wurman, Ilan (May 2013). "Drug Testing Welfare Recipients as a Constitutional Condition". Stanford Law Review. 65 (5). SSRN 2212509.
  16. ^ Pérez-Muñoz, Cristian (2017-12-01). "What is Wrong with Testing Welfare Recipients for Drug Use?". Political Studies. 65 (4): 912–929. doi:10.1177/0032321717692166. ISSN 0032-3217. S2CID 148584720.
  17. ^ Editorial Board (18 March 2012). "Editorial: Drug testing welfare applicants nets little". USA Today. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  18. ^ Cohen, Andrew (6 January 2014). "Poverty in a Cup: Why a Federal Judge Rejected a Florida Drug-Test Requirement". The Atlantic. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  19. ^ "Judge nixes Florida's welfare drug testing". Fox News. Associated Press. 31 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  20. ^ Beasley, David (April 29, 2014). "Georgia governor signs law to drug test some welfare recipients". Yahoo News. Retrieved April 28, 2021.
  21. ^ Ramsey, Nick (27 December 2014). "Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder OKs drug tests for welfare recipients". MSNBC. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  22. ^ Price, Michelle (8 September 2013). "Utah's welfare drug testing saved more than $350,000 in first year, officials say". Deseret News. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  23. ^ Schwarz, Hunter (11 November 2014). "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to drug test welfare recipients". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  24. ^ Crew, Robert E.; Davis, Belinda Creel (2003). "Assessing the effects of substance abuse among applicants for TANF benefits: the outcome of a demonstration project in Florida". Journal of Health & Social Policy. 17 (1): 39–53. doi:10.1300/J045v17n01_03. ISSN 0897-7186. PMID 14620735. S2CID 2860097.