Should All Welfare Recipients be Tested for Drugs?

Welfare Reform
Welfare Reform


54% – Yes, drug test them
23% – Random drug testing
14% – No, don’t test them
9% – Only drug addicts

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One of the most widely discussed changes to state legislatures has been whether or not states should require mandatory drug testing for those citizens receiving welfare benefits from the government. So far, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah have active legislation, and many others have introduced bills and proposed legislation.

Opponents of the proposal include civil libertarians and advocates of the poor who believe the government does not have the right to test people for drugs based on their economic status. Proponents argue that drug use often leads to economic plight and testing applicants for drugs will improve their livelihood by serving as a deterrent for narcotic abuse.

Lawmakers have plenty of arguments for and against such a move, but the following are the most compelling:

1. Potential savings for taxpayers
Removing drug abusers from state aid programs would decrease the amount of money each state must provide to its citizens. Welfare programs require recipients to be “drug free”, however they do not enforce the policy. Therefore, a change in enforcement may weed out a number of recipients who are breaking the law, and are not eligible for benefits in the first place.

2. Deterring drug use
Requiring mandatory drug tests would likely deter welfare recipients from using illegal drugs. Drug use occurs in all socioeconomic classes, however, it is more likely for someone in the poverty class to be abusing drugs than someone of higher wealth status. Our country is experiencing a major drug crisis; this may be a step in the right direction in the war against drugs.

3. In the interests of fairness
Many argue that those who have jobs and work for a living are often required to submit to random drug testing, therefore, it is only fair that those who receive their income from the state should also be subject to the same testing. Companies and independent testing agencies have been conducting these tests for years now, it does not seem too arduous to add welfare recipients to these employed groups already being tested.

4. Promotes employment
Adding more “hoops” to receiving welfare benefits, and making it more difficult to maintain, may be a great motivator for many individuals to become more diligent in searching for employment.

1. Costs of conducting such widespread testing
Studies have shown that states are spending large sums of money, and are finding very few drug test results that come back positive. This brings up a few other issues regarding the effectiveness of tests used, and whether drug users are able to “cheat” the system.

2. Effects on children
A large number of people receiving welfare benefits are children. Enacting a drug testing mandate could adversely affect the children of drug users. These children very well may be law abiding citizens, who are deprived of rightful assistance simply because their parents have failed drug tests.

3. Not every job requires drug testing
Even though many jobs require drug testing, there are plenty that do not. Therefore, generalizing that “all people who are employed are subject to drug testing, so welfare recipients should be too,” is not a true statement.

4. No help for those addicted
Requiring drug testing may be a start on the war against drugs, but many argue that the real problem is that people do not have access to rehabilitation. Simply denying state aid without drug rehabilitation programs only helps to solve half of the problem.

5. It’s unconstitutional
The main argument made by those lawmakers who oppose drug testing welfare recipients is that these laws are simply unconstitutional. Because welfare benefits are given to poor citizens, many view that these laws are considered discrimination based on socioeconomic status. The argument stems from the assumption that they are drug users just because they do not earn a sufficient living on their own. In addition, many argue that the reason these laws are unconstitutional is because they amount to an unreasonable search and seizure, a right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Some argue that by requiring drug testing for all welfare recipients, the state would be unreasonably infringing on the rights of individuals.

After looking at both sides of the political aisle, it’s important to understand how this topic can and will affect current and future welfare recipients.

Where do you stand?

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