Drug Testing Welfare Recipients to Prevent Abuse


Respectfully submitted by Lawrence E. Rafferty (rafflaw)-Guest Blogger

I have seen the suggestion before that Welfare recipients need to be drug tested to make sure that taxpayers are not paying for the drug habits of those evil poor people.  I have even seen relatives allude to it in messages on social media sites and I have witnessed friends championing the idea in personal emails.  I always wondered why some people think that the poor must be abusing the state and federal aid programs and therefore must have drug tests to insure that the taxpayers money is not being wasted.  While I agree that taxpayers money should not be wasted, I have not seen any benefit from forcing people to be drug tested before they receive their aid payments.

The State of Florida tried this from 1999 to 2001 and reintroduced it in 2011.  The Florida plan was subsequently struck down by the courts because there was no evidence that poor people abused drugs more often than their wealthier counterparts.  “The state of Florida passed an almost identical testing procedure that ran from 1999 to 2001 and was reintroduced in July of 2011 that was struck down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta the following month, citing the fact:  ‘ “there is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a `concrete danger’ that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.” ‘  Crooks and Liars   Does it surprise you that it took the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals before this expensive and intrusive process was ended in Florida? 

The Florida experience proved to be a costly waste of taxpayers money according to the Tampa Tribune.  “The Tampa Tribune investigated the results of those July 2011 drug tests and found that “96 percent proved to be drug free”, another 2 percent never bothering to complete the lengthy application process, and 2 percent actually failing drug testing. At an average cost of $30 per test, the state was hemorrhaging tax dollars at a rate of “$28,800-$43,200 monthly”… FAR out pacing the supposed “savings” from preventing drug-abusers from gaming the system to buy drugs.” Crooks and Liars  The failure of this idea in Florida did not prevent or dissuade the Texas State Senate from unanimously passing an even more draconian plan to screen and drug test welfare recipients.

“On Wednesday, the Texas State legislature, currently composed of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, unanimously passed Senate Bill 11, which mandates that every Texan applying for food assistance through the TANF (Texas Assistance for Needy Families) program, submit to an undefined “screening process” and possible drug test before receiving benefits if the screener finds “good cause” to even suspect that person is… or is likely to… abuse any “controlled substance” — despite the fact that there is no evidence at all that people seeking assistance are more likely to do drugs.

According to the bill’s author, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), the purpose of the bill:  ‘ “It ensures that TANF, formerly known as welfare, supports its core purpose of helping families to achieve self-sufficiency,” said Nelson, as she introduced the bill. “We found common ground to support a plan that makes sure state resources aren’t used to support a drug habit while at the same time making sure children receiving benefit in a productive environment.” ‘ Crooks and Liars

I can only assume that the venerable Texas State Senators failed to read about the experience this type of plan had in Florida or merely discounted the facts available to them.  Is there a reason why politicians of all stripes jump on the bandwagon that claims the poor and needy are just lazy and may even be on illegal drugs and therefore do not deserve the help of their fellow citizens?  These same Texas Senators ignored the Houston Chronicle which published an article critical of SB11 and other proposed bills designed to root out those drug abusing poor people out of their assistance programs.

“Four times during last week’s House Human Services Committee meeting, Rep. Scott Turner asked whether Texas has a problem with parents diverting assistance dollars for food and children to buy drugs.  Agency officials could tell the Frisco Republican only that they do not test recipients, and few people lose their benefits because of drug convictions or tips that can be corroborated. ” Houston Chronicle  

The Chronicle discussed a similar plan in Michigan that was struck down by a State court for being unconstitutional and the plan in Florida discussed above.  According to the Chronicle there are seven other states with similar drug testing of welfare recipients programs.  ” Seven states have enacted similar measures – all but two require risk screening before drug testing – and another 29 states are considering legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Three Texas bills propose testing some applicants for state unemployment benefits rather than TANF applicants.” Houston Chronicle

Just where does this pervasive fear that the unemployed or impoverished are stealing from the public in order to support their drug habits?  Does this relate to the old “welfare queen” meme?  Is it related to the attempt by some state legislatures to pass voter ID laws to prevent non-existent voter fraud?

As usual, it seems that the politicians are unfazed by the fact that the poor do not use drugs any more than the middle class or the wealthy.  Growing up my family received Veterans benefits and Social Security benefits that kept us from ending up on the street.  Today, these onerous screening and drug testing programs would have forced my Mother to be tested before she could receive her check which paid for the housing and food for herself and her 5 young children.   Remind me again, why is this a good idea?

Additional References:  ACLU;

120 thoughts on “Drug Testing Welfare Recipients to Prevent Abuse

  1. “I find that in the 21st century, there’s not a lot of compassion for what other people are going through or the walk that they have to walk.”
    – Tori Amos

  2. You flunk a drug test at work. you have no job. Right? The idea of mandatory volentering for your benifits is not a bad idea. And this thing I read about infringement of peoples rights regarding the drug testing? that’s B.S What about the infringement of the people that have to pay taxes to suport these gov. fundings. Lets face it. Too many able, lazy people Collecting the benifits from tax-paying people. And for those self inflicted disabled. Cut them off.

  3. Infringement of rights because a welfare recipient is drug tested? Give me a break. You people obviously haven’t seen the reality of abuse in the system. First of all I lost my 22 year old son to a heroin overdose one year ago on Sept.30. Outpatient government funded treatment programs are a joke. Welfare recipients who get arrested for drugs are court ordered to attend an outpatient program or they lose their benefits. So they go to these programs and they openly sell drugs right in front of the place. They’re not interested in rehab. They’re only going there to keep the government assistance coming. So here they are, standing outside pushing heroin and whatever else to other rehab patients. I have seen it happen right in front of my eyes and nobody does anything because the place is afraid that they’ll lose their funding. So everybody looks the other way. I am so sick of everyone being afraid of infringing on welfare recipient’s rights. My husband’s daughter works for the welfare department in NJ. She says its ridiculous how the workers there are aware of the abuse but are not allowed to act on it. The welfare recipients get free housing, food stamps, phones, and furniture. They have even discovered that many times they sublet the free apartments that they’re getting, are selling and using drugs and often drive expensive cars but the welfare department is not allowed to question it because of “their rights”. So anyone that thinks that poor people who get government assistance shoukdnt be held to the same standards as the rest of us are wrong and do not know the reality of the abuse of the system.

  4. thefurrytail,
    I am sorry for your loss, but if what you say is true, how come Florida didn’t find it and Utah didn’t find the abuse at any level worth testing for??

  5. thefurrytail:

    I am very sorry for the loss of your son, but I suggest that your anger, though understandable, is misdirected. I have worked extensively for over fifteen years with attorneys who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. I have also worked with families in the juvenile justice system suffering the effects of substance abuse. And I have dealt with those issues in my immediate family.

    Outpatient treatment programs are a “joke” because we permit them to be. Society has made a determination that addiction is simply a moral failing rather than a disease. So we fund outpatient programs grudgingly, even though we know, or would know if we cared, that successful recovery requires that we treat the problems underlying the addiction. That typically requires a period of residential treatment, but those facilities are few and mostly expensive. Insurance companies provide virtually no coverage due to the high incidence of relapse. And of course, many addicts are simply tossed into prisons with the rest of society’s detritus.

    My experience with the people who work in these programs is that they are usually highly idealistic and committed, but many become increasingly demoralized and cynical due to the low pay, high case loads and lack of support. Burnout follows, and the most experienced move on to jobs in which their efforts will be recognized and appreciated.

    I am one who believes that government has an important role to play because of the tremendous social and economic cost of addiction. But that is an increasingly minority view in an increasingly Randian society. I predict that funding for drug treatment will continue to be cut.

  6. Mike A.,
    thanks for sharing your great experiences. I agree that drug treatment does not make as much money for for-profit prison corporations so the war on drugs will continue and funding will continue to shrink.

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