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Friday, August 22, 2014

Should We Drug Test All Welfare Recipients?

Should We Drug Test All Welfare Recipients? Would it be Cost Effective to Spend the Possible Thousands of Dollars on Drug Testing for all Welfare Recipients? Do More People on Welfare Use Drugs?

Does the Welfare Reform Act work? Did it really impact the amount of people or families on assistance?

Since the launching of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act many people have been debating over whether drug testing would show that more welfare recipients engage in illicit drug use or if our government should spend the possible thousands of dollars on drug testing all welfare recipients.

To begin this discussion, it's important to touch base on where this idea came from about people on welfare using illicit drugs. Many people believe that there is a bias about drug use being connected to welfare recipients and that all recipients are users. Data from the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse found that 21% of welfare recipients also indicated using an illicit drug within the last 12-months while receiving aid from the government (http://www.fordschool.umich.edu/research/poverty/pdf/jcpr_pollack.pdf).

The data was taken in surveys given out to recipients in the years of 1994-1995. Although this data showed a small percent of people who receive assistance, these percentages tend to cause a bias about drug use and welfare being connected. These numbers come from self-reports which can be under reported and not an accurate number or people who may be using drugs. Many people believe that if a welfare recipient can afford to buy drugs than they can afford to work and not receive government payments.

Why was the Welfare Reform Act enacted?

Before one could answer such a question, one needs to understand what the Welfare Reform Act is and why it was enacted. The idea behind the reform was to change how the welfare system had been run since the Great Depression. It would become the needed catalyst to make the changes in the United States to how people would not only view welfare, but also how people would be able to acquire assistance. The act was enacted with several objectives:

·         To reduce the number of families or members that are on welfare.

·         To assist people to become self-efficient and become part of the work force.

·         Recipients are required to find jobs within two years of first receiving welfare payments.

·         Recipients are allowed to receive welfare payments for a total five years.

·         The states are allowed to establish "family caps" that prevent mothers of babies born while the mother is already on welfare from receiving additional benefits.

One of the major reforms under this act is the Welfare-to-Work initiative, this would require for the recipient to work for 20 hours per week in order to receive any benefits. "According to reports, within 3 years of the reform's enactment, millions of Americans had moved from being dependent on welfare to being self-sufficient. In addition, agencies reported a reduction in the number of social welfare cases," (http://www.welfareinfo.org/reform/).

So, instead of offering assistance to become stuck and at home making barely enough to survive on welfare, the government took a supportive stance in helping these people to achieve financial independence by limiting the recipient's ability to stay on government assistance and truly become a productive independent person by pushing them towards going to work each day.

The Act would allow individual states to become the sole responsibility of welfare assistance. It is now up to states to establish and administer welfare programs that will best serve the poor within that state. There are broad guidelines offered by the government for states to follow but funding for welfare programs are now given to the states in the form of block grants, and the states have the responsibility to funding amounts for certain welfare programs. States could then make changes including drug testing for recipients. If a person failed the test then they would be kicked off welfare or in some states be required to engage in a substance abuse program.

Utah took a different stance, instead of kicking recipients off welfare the state offered for them to continue receiving services as long as the recipients engaged in an addiction program. In order for recipients to continue to receive assistance they would need to complete the addiction program (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765637435/Utah-officials-say-welfare-drug-tests-save-money.html).

There are a total of 29 states that have proposed drug testing as a requirement to receiving aid. Some of these other states kick off those recipients who test positive for illicit drug use or refuse to complete drug testing or delay it. Other states require a substance abuse treatment program and if recipients complete these requirements the person may keep obtaining government aid. If recipients drop out of the substance abuse program and refuse to complete the requirements the person will be dropped off welfare (http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/drug-testing-and-public-assistance.aspx).

There are many barriers that hold recipients back from either being employable or being able to deal with daily life leading them to drug use possibly leaving these people without future help. The Welfare Reform Act has led some states to requiring drug testing as a means of possibly saving money from those recipients that don't want to engage in receiving help and to give others a shove in the direction of working to make a living.

Caseworkers in each state are now tasked with making decisions involving the qualifications to receive benefits. One of the major fall backs of such delegation of decision making to the states is the fact that people who don't want to work are more likely to migrate toward states that of less restrictive.

Although there are differences between states regarding who can or cannot get assistance it seems that the act did just as it purposed and did reduce the number or families or individuals on welfare. According to an article written by Rebecca M. Blank called, "Was Welfare Reform Successful?" she stated that after the reform was in effect welfare caseloads began to decline. By 2001 these numbers were at the lowest in 30 years (http://www.usi.edu/business/cashel/331/welfare%20reform.pdf).

In addition, more people entered the work force after this act became active, more so than any government official expected.

However, most states do not drug test all welfare recipients leaving percentages to be skewed and not truly an accurate and reliable account of illicit drug use among welfare recipients. After a federal judge in Florida made a decision that testing all recipients would be considered an unreasonable search by the government and considered unconstitutional according to the 4th amendment caused states to come up with another way to continue drug testing. States would choose only some recipients to test including those that come up with a red flag on an addiction survey (http://newsok.com/oklahomas-drug-screening-of-welfare-applicants-proves-costly/article/3877828).

Should we drug test welfare recipients?

The majority of people in the work force would agree that everyone receiving government assistance should have to commit to drug testing and to follow the guidelines set out to receive assistance. Many people looking for work will be required to engage in drug testing to get the job so why would it be any different for those wanting to receive benefits? For some this is unconstitutional and for others it just seems fair and some truly believe that the government would save thousands of dollars on welfare in general. If welfare recipients fail a drug test they will then receive assistance to get help to get them off the drugs and back out into the work force or will be dropped off of welfare.

Utah is one state that sticks out as having saved up to $350,000 in the first year that the state implemented a drug testing requirement for welfare recipients. Although that may seem like a lot of savings the state actually spent around $30,000 to drug screen welfare recipients and only found that 12 people actually failed the test. The real savings came from the recipients that either refused to complete requirements of drug testing or engaging in a substance abuse program for those people that tested positive. The state saved a large amount of money on these 250 people who did not follow the requirements set forth to continue receiving aid (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765637435/Utah-officials-say-welfare-drug-tests-save-money.html).

In Oklahoma, the state spent $82,700 in the first seven months of conducting required drug testing on recipients. In that time only 83 people either came up positive or did not comply with the testing requirements and thus were not allowed to continue to receive government assistance. Yet, again this state chose not to require testing on all welfare recipients leaving out people that may have come up positive on a drug test (http://newsok.com/oklahomas-drug-screening-of-welfare-applicants-proves-costly/article/3877828).

Other states followed spending upward into the millions of dollars on screening and drug testing participants and only coming up with a small insignificant number of individuals that came up positive on drug testing. Although numbers are not a true reflection due to the process of selection for testing may pass over those who would test positive on a test. The only way to know the true quantity of welfare recipients engaging in illicit drug use would be to test every person on welfare. However, this would cost thousands if not a few million dollars depending on how many recipients in each state would require testing. Is it worth it? Some say that it is and overall there has been a decline in the amounts spent out in welfare benefits each year.

Since the reform was enacted in 1996 and states have made some drug testing mandatory and have implement the work initiative there has been a stealthy decline in the amount of monies spent out to recipients each year. The Welfare-to-work initiative seems to be the most effective change in the welfare system today. In 1996 there 12,320,970 people receiving welfare payments. As of 2010 there were only 4,375,022 people receiving benefits. That is a drop of 7,945,948 people no longer receiving benefits from welfare (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temporary_Assistance_for_Needy_Families).

More people are off welfare and working thanks to programs like the Welfare-to-work imitative. Even while poverty levels and unemployment rates have risen over the years there is still a decline in people receiving welfare benefits. It would prove to be beneficial to continue drug testing recipients and get those people who test positive in substance abuse treatment and help them get back out into the working force. It may cost more money to send these people to drug treatment, however, in the long run money will be well spent when these people are able to return to work and live a productive life.