Is Drug Testing Financially Feasible?

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Tanner Walker
Staff Writer

Recently, Congress passed a resolution that would eliminate restrictions set in place during the Obama administration and give states more freedom in drug testing welfare applicants. Fifteen states have already passed legislation regarding drug testing applicants and recipients of welfare benefits.

The problem with these tests is that they are ineffective, invade people’s privacy, and create an enormous hypocrisy. In some cases, federal courts have even declared the practice unconstitutional.

Supporters of these drug tests claim that testing applicants will save their state money by removing drug users from the programs and thereby reducing the overall expense of the programs. I will admit that supporting a junkie’s addiction is one of the last places I want to see my tax dollars go, but the number of applicants who test positive for drugs is surprisingly small.

Between 2010 and 2014 in Arizona, 142,424 applicants were screened by the state’s Department of Economic Security. Of those, only 42 were selected for urine testing. Out of that number, only 19 people actually showed up to take the test, and only three tested negative.

It seems shocking that only three welfare applicants in the entire state use drugs, but the surprise wears off when you consider how easy it is to avoid testing positive. First, applicants can lie on their screening, lowering their chances of even being selected for a test. Then, if they are selected, applicants can simply abstain from using for a few days before their test, and by that time, any trace of drugs is out of their system.

Even when drug users are caught, the money saved by cutting off their benefits is often less than the money spent testing them. Over a two-year period from 2012-2014, Oklahoma suspended benefits for 297 individuals.

The estimated cost of the drug screening program for the two-year period was $385,872, or $1,299 per positive test result,” according to snopes.com. “At approximately $3.25 of TANF benefits per person per day, and a suspension of six months per person, we could estimate that Oklahoma saved $173,745 from the 297 individuals who tested positive.” Drug testing welfare recipients has been touted as an easy way to save states money, and in theory it is a solid proposition. In practice, however, the idea has not lived up to expectations.

Aside from their inability to actually catch drug users and save states money, drug test and screenings for welfare applicants are morally wrong.  Many people signing up for welfare are unable to work for legitimate reasons. Elderly people, parents unexpectedly laid off, or full-time students supporting themselves should not be subjected to an invasion of their privacy and have the process delayed by an ineffective bureaucracy.

More importantly, the same logic that requires welfare recipients to be clean of drugs should subject all recipients of federal subsidies to the same testing. Farmers, individuals who have tax-free employer-provided health insurance, or home mortgage deductions all receive government support, but do not face any drug testing. Testing everyone who benefits from federal aid would be completely ridiculous, so why have welfare recipients been singled out?

Without help, addicts will continue to abuse drugs regardless of their financial situation and government aid. Being approved or denied welfare is not the deciding factor for continuing drug use or starting on a path to sobriety. Taking welfare away from those who need it only pushes recipients farther into poverty and away from recovery with no benefit to the taxpayer.