Should Welfare Recipients Be Drug Screened To Receive Benefits?

By Dawn Boykin

A State program in Utah is one in eight which requires welfare recipients to be drug screened as part of the requirement for receiving aid.

Republican Brad Wilson who crafted the screening law says that he created it because he wants to help get people off of assistance and back to work and this can’t happen if drugs are being used.

Utah spent more than $30,000 from August 2012 to July 2013 screening applicants to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and found that 12 people tested positive.

There were some 250 others who failed the drug screening requirement and were told that they could not receive or apply for benefits for three months, saving a total of $350,000 in benefits that would have been paid.

Other states claim that this policy violates protections against searches without probable clause.

The other opposition to the policy is that the law unfairly stigmatizes poor people.

In Utah, applicants of TANF are not disqualified if they test positive, but are required to go into drug treatment.

Gina Corina, Executive Director of Utahans against Hunger and longtime activist on welfare overhaul believes in the notion that “if you are struggling to find employment, it must be because you are using drugs.”

My concern for Wilson, Corina and other advocated of this law is the lack of concern or dedication to issues that are more likely correlated with poverty such as mental health problems, education, training, literacy and domestic violence. In the latter, perhaps a true solution can be pursued. However for me, drug testing appears to be politically driven malarkey.

Further, if the policy is not based on the assumption that large populations of welfare recipients use drugs as Wilson stated, then why would he implement it? Sounds rather suspect to me.

In Florida an appeals court noted that there was failure to demonstrate the existence of a drug problem among people receiving benefits. “The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior,” the judges wrote.

This is certainly a violation of the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches and I don’t think that Congress should waste any more time entertaining the thought. At least not until there are hard core evidence that drug usage is a dire problem among applicants of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and that families are getting high and not using the money for living expenses.

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