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?
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.
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
·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
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.
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
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
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
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).
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
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