Poor families and individuals in the US are entitled to receive different types of socioeconomic benefits. The goal of all these benefits is to provide temporary, guaranteed and basic level of assistance to the poor individuals and households. It is expected to help them become self-supportive over time. Many states have passed welfare drug testing legislation to deny drug users from receiving state-funded welfare benefits. The idea is controversial and there are pros and cons of it.
It seems obvious that the state benefits should not be given to drug users. They use these benefits to support their drug addiction. This addiction keeps them from seeking meaningful employment. They do not have any incentive to seek a job when they can fulfill both their food requirements and drug addiction. Taxpayers do not like their money going to the poor people who do not want to improve their condition. These taxpayers work hard and pay taxes to the government. If the taxes paid by them are used to support the drug addiction, they feel indignant and want to stop it. They want their money given to the real needy people.
The mandatory drug testing helps catch the people who use fraudulent methods to obtain government-provided benefits. It ensures efficient distribution of the government funds. Billions of dollars are spent every year on state and federal government funded welfare programs. There is always a need to improve the efficiency of these programs and save the government money. One way it can be done is by making the drug testing mandatory for the individuals receiving welfare funds and support.
Drug testing of welfare recipients helps identify people who are in need of help for their drug addiction. Most people applying for any job in the US are now required to undergo a drug test. Many of these individuals argue why only they have to undergo a drug test. They demand even those individuals applying for the welfare funds must undergo the drug tests to ensure only the needy people received these benefits.
It is expected if drug testing is made mandatory, it will discourage the use of illegal drugs among the welfare recipients. It will help reduce the number of overall drug addicts. Poor people who should be spending their meager resources on their own welfare will avoid spending their small income and savings to buy illicit drugs. It creates an incentive for drug users to come out of their drug addiction.
The demand for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients is not new. The proposals were made after the Welfare Reform Act was passed in 1996. Welfare drug testing started in 2011 when Florida, Missouri, and Arizona passed the legislation that required some applicants and recipients of TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program to undergo the drug test. Over the years, many other states have passed similar legislation. The data does not show any big benefit of this type of drug testing. The states that implemented these rules have been able to save meager amounts. These savings do not include the hidden administrative, implementation and monitoring costs. After screening thousands of suspected drug users among the welfare recipients, only a few individuals have been found to be the drug users.
A big problem with this approach is that a poor person already facing harsh condition are further stigmatized. It adds stigma, shame, and guilt to the people who are struggling to stand on their feet. This feeling can drive away many poor people from seeking benefits that can help them overcome their temporary financial difficulties. When a person is denied a job, there are other job opportunities. However, when the government benefits are denied to a poor person, there is no other source offering similar levels of benefits.
The information that someone is using a drug can make a person suspect in the police record. Such a person would rather avoid receiving the benefits that create a bigger and permanent legal problem for self. Courts have struck down many welfare drug testing programs. These requirements violate a person’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Everyone including the super-rich receives some types of government benefits. Roads, rails, low-interest loans for homes and businesses, incentives for solar power, bailing out large mismanaged and fraud companies with the taxpayers’ money, and tax breaks offered to the large corporations are all examples of government-funded benefits. No one pays the full amount that it costs to build, operate and maintain the public infrastructure. Poor people cannot be denied the benefits when others continue to receive direct and indirect government benefits.
There are no easy answers to this question and the debate continues on both sides.