Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested?

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8 March 2016

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Welfare is defined as the provision of social support for citizens, giving them a minimal level of well-being. In media, welfare is also referred to as public aid. Most welfare provisions are handled by the government, and usually cover financial aid, unemployment insurance, and universal healthcare services. Since the beginning of year 1996, U.S. politicians have been debating the issue as to whether welfare applicants are to be drug-tested or not. Drug testing of welfare applicants is actually an ongoing experiment in several states such as New Jersey, Indiana, and Florida. While local lawmakers of the said states are still on the move to create a legislation mandating the drug testing of welfare applicants, the process remains questionable in terms of constitutionality. There are several important issues circling the process of drug testing welfare applicants. Proponents of drug-testing the welfare applicants view that jobless citizens who are on drugs will spend the financial aid to buy illicit drugs – an event that dreads American taxpayers. However, the opponents argue that drug testing welfare applicants is both expensive and ineffective, deterring those applicants who really need public aid from getting the benefits. This paper aims to support the drug-testing of welfare applicants. It will tackle the advantages of doing the process, and will attempt to address the apparent problems concerning drug-testing of welfare applicants.

II. History

Before we precede on the defense of drug testing welfare applicants, it is important to delve deeper into the roots of this program. “Since 1996, drug testing welfare applicants has been a hot issue as the Congress overhauled welfare in the year. In particular, the welfare assistance is acquired via the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.” (Falk, 2012). However, welfare assistance can also be in the form of other programs for the needy citizens, such as food stamps and jobless benefits. In latter, drug testing rules vary according to federal law, as well as state policies in which the program is being executed. It is not until the year 2001 that states started to perform pilot drug testing of welfare applicants for the TANF program. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, around nine U.S. states have considered and included drug testing of welfare applicants as one of requirements to enter the TANF program. Recent states that have passed drug testing as a requirement for welfare application include North Carolina and Kansas.

Lawmakers and state officials have not been blind with the potential expensiveness of the drug testing requirement for TANF. One of the most notable efforts to test the validity of drug testing versus the cost of doing it was in 2003, when Michigan pushed a law on blanket-testing applicants. Drug testing welfare applicants during those times proved to be costly, and so other states became hesitant in pursuing this requirement. In 2010, the issue returned on the hot seat, as federal and state officials got back to arguing the need for drug testing welfare applicants. In 2011, Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott proposed drug testing for welfare applicants in the state, a law that was approved by the state legislature. Among the different U.S. states, Florida serves as the apple of the eye of media in terms of the effectiveness of drug testing welfare applicants.

III. Advantages of Drug-testing Welfare Applicants

A. Less People Using Drugs
The logic behind this advantage is that if welfare applicants have the money to purchase drugs, they should have money to provide for their own living expenses. The risk of losing the benefits will deter welfare applicants from purchasing and using drugs. “One study examined the effect of mandatory drug testing in the military drug. In 1980, 27.6 percent of the military personnel use illicit drugs. However, when mandatory drug testing was employed, it dropped to only 3.4% in 1992.” (Mehay & Pacula, 1999). This was a drastic change in the prevalence of drug use in the military. The nature of military jobs and welfare application is actually the same – both are voluntary. When someone applies to get government assistance, he voluntarily accepts whatsoever conditions are provided in order to acquire the welfare. So, we can definitely say that if welfare applicants are aware the drug testing is a requirement to pass, just as how the military personnel knew that they need to be drug tested in order to stay in the military, then less welfare applicants would be using illicit drugs so they can pass and get welfare. B. First Step to Rehabilitation

Mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants is the first step in rehabilitation. In Florida, the four-month period of implementation of the drug testing requirement for welfare applicants found 108 people who are positive for drug use. Does this mean that they are banned from getting any welfare assistance in the future? Not likely so. This is actually a way for them to get direct help from the government. The state would then require those who failed the drug testing to undergo rehabilitation so that they can get welfare assistance. This is hitting two birds in one stone – making sure that the taxpayers’ money gets to the needy and deserving applicants, and the applicants who failed to get into rehabilitation programs. C. Fairness with Taxpayers

The purpose of welfare is to get people back on their feet. However, mainstream American society has accepted the fact that many citizens apply for welfare so the government could provide for them in a long term manner, rather than in a short period of time, that is, until they find a job to provide for themselves. The American workforce has been shrinking slowly in the past years, as people see government assistance in the form of welfare as the only (and more often, the better) way to provide for their family. Many tend to give up searching for jobs, dramatically affecting the American economy. Unfortunately, many welfare applicants see the government assistance as not a means of recovery, but long term sustenance to their personal and family needs. “Taxpayers should provide support to those in need; recipients, in return, should engage in responsible and constructive behavior as a condition of receiving aid,” says Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation.

The economic downturn has become so drastic, and the “recovery” phase of welfare recipients seems to become slower as months go by. As a social contract between people that are in need (welfare recipients) and those that provide such assistance (taxpayers), welfare should promote equity rather than bias. It is fairly reasonable to expect that people who are seeking welfare assistance be held to requirements and standards that are also experienced by taxpayers. This will ensure that those who really need help are given welfare assistance, and their re-entry to workforce is made quicker. The responsible behavior this brings can be promoted through drug testing them.

IV. Addressing the Apparent Problems of the Proposed Law

A. A Costly Process
The biggest opposition in drug testing welfare applicants is that it is very expensive and merely drains the taxpayers’ money. However, providing welfare applicants with government assistance even though they are active drug users are actually more expensive compared to the process of drug testing each and every welfare applicant. News report says that Florida expends $11 billion USD every year on welfare assistance. The average welfare assistance is $5500 per person, and about 2 million people in the state of Florida receive the welfare assistance. It is assumed that around 170,000 welfare applicants would be positive for drug use. According to the American Civil Liberty Union or ACLU, one drug test costs $42 USD. If we remove one welfare recipient who tested positive in the drug test, that would actually pay for about 131 drug tests. Testing every recipient, then, would cost around $71.4 million. While this is a huge expense on the shoulder of the state, it’s surprising that Florida would save $935,000,000 worth of welfare assistance if the drug using applicants are removed, leading to a savings of about $863 million USD if we count in the cost for drug testing. “There are many factors contributing to drug use and eventually, drug addiction.

Among these include unemployment leading to depression and other psychiatric problems, mental illness, and trauma.” (Barsky, 2005). Higher rates of drug use and addition are found in the group of people below the U.S. poverty line. However, a study shows that only 4% of people who are welfare recipients experience drug addiction. The point of the opposition is that with studies and statistics that show only 4% will be tested positive for illicit drug use, mandatory drug testing of welfare applicants would just be a big waste of money. But, the question here is, how many people are those 4% among the welfare group? ACLU reported that 4,086 TANF applicants were drug tested within four months of implementation of the drug testing requirement. Among these, 108 welfare applicants tested were found positive to drug use. Surely, this is less than the 4% projected number of welfare group that use drugs, 2.86% only to be exact.

Florida spent $118,140 to reimburse the drug test fees for welfare applicants that were tested. If each of the 108 welfare applicants who are positive on drugs was not screened and therefore would be eligible to receive around $5500 of welfare checks, then the state would have given $594,000 USD of the taxpayers’ money to drug users. This is about five times more than the reimbursed drug test fees. Thus, the state is actually making use of the taxpayers’ money the right way by means of ensuring that the money is given to those who pursue drug-free lifestyle and are therefore more likely to desire to get back on their feet and seek employment. B. Ineffectiveness to Uncover Drug Abuse

There is no doubt that questionnaires and self-reports are effective in surveying the users of illicit drugs in the pool of welfare applicants. However, no one can deny that actual drug testing far exceeds questionnaires and self-reports in uncovering drug abuse. It is worthwhile to remember that many welfare applicants experience depression and other psychiatric problems, and denial of drug abuse when asked via surveys and interviews is likely to happen. Another rationale for the effectiveness of drug testing to uncover drug abuse is that even if 100 welfare applicants who are positive on drug use seem to look “fewer” compared to the whole lot of welfare applicants, putting them to drug rehabilitation would help 108 American families. The point is that it’s not a matter of statistics when it comes to governing people and helping them live better lives, it is a matter of individuality- making sure that every American citizen gets help from the government. C. Stereotyping

Drug testing welfare applicants is not stereotyping that this group of people are most likely to use drugs than non-welfare applicants. In reality, drug testing has become a standard procedure in other groups of people. Athletes and professional sports teams are subjected to drug tests. Many universities and colleges require drug testing prior to enrollment, and finally, drug testing is performed to people who are or will be employed in many companies. It Is absurd to say that the government or the society stereotype such big groups of people as those who are likely to use drugs. For various reasons, drug testing has been required to comply with the law, and/or institutional rules and policies. In this case, mandatory drug testing would hold the welfare recipients to the same standard just like everybody else.

And, as mentioned earlier in this paper, drug testing them would be a good public service to help those welfare recipients suffering from substance abuse problems, and/or medical disorders. On behalf of the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, Dr. Pollack argued that welfare recipients experience depression and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD among other psychiatric disorders. Because of this, he suggest that not only drug testing be made mandatory to welfare applicants, but also mental health testing. D. Unconstitutionality & Intrusion of Privacy

Another apparent reason that surfaces against drug testing welfare recipients is that the process allegedly intrudes the privacy of welfare applicants. It must be noted that a person applies to get welfare assistance. If that is the case, then he or she must be willing to undergo any requirement deemed necessary in order to receive welfare assistance. It is not an intrusion of his privacy because in applying, he knows that drug testing would be one of the requirements, and so he is confident that he will pass the drug test and that he gives consent to the process. Intrusion of privacy is viewed by many opponents as what makes drug testing welfare applicants to be unconstitutional. There were judges who did not approve of the passing of this policy in their respective state because they believed that doing so is a violation of the 4th amendment in the U.S. Constitution, assuming that drug testing is done in a mandatory manner.

The cited portion of the 4th amendment is as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Taking this into consideration, it would be a violation in the U.S. constitution if the state wants to test any American citizen randomly. However, the people involved in the issues are those who would like to apply for the welfare assistance, which means there is a voluntary acceptance of certain conditions such as drug testing the moment they lodge their application for TANF. For instance, American soldiers undergo drug testing whenever the military branch decides to do so. They cannot opt out of drug testing because the job was basically voluntary, not mandatory or coerced.

The same applies for any other job any American citizen has – he has to undergo drug testing if the company requires of it. If an employee or job applicant does not want to undergo drug testing, no one is forcing him to do so. This means he just have to refuse being drug tested, and be removed from his job, or not apply at all. As mentioned earlier in this paper, there should be no bias to welfare applicants. They have the choice to pursue their welfare application or not – the government does not coerce them to apply anyway. So if they want the privileges of welfare assistance, the state of Florida puts it that they must meet certain conditions, which apparently includes living a drug-free lifestyle. Another issue according to ACLU is the abuse of executive power over the citizens who want to apply for welfare. In particular, the said organization is condemning Governor Scott as he exercises his executive power to intrude upon the rights of the Florida citizens. In essence, this argument can be solved by looking at how jobs (which are voluntary in nature) relate to the “right to work” law, versus unions being subject to the said law.

If we assume that the right to work law is applicable to not only unions but also to jobs, then all business and firms must not be allowed to require and employ certain conditions in order for people to get hired. In this case, every citizen has the right to be employed, so businesses must not do anything except to hire and hire. However, this is not the reality of the right to work law. Businesses have the right to do drug testing and other requirements since the jobs are voluntarily applied for. The same principle applies on welfare application in the U.S. states. The gist of this argument is that a welfare applicant is informed that he will be undergoing drug testing to qualify for the welfare assistance. As long as he, in the right state of mind, fully knows this requirement and makes a decision to proceed with the welfare applicant, then drug testing does not violate any part of the U.S. constitution at all. Drug testing welfare applicants must be made mandatory because of its various advantages. It can lower the people who use illicit drugs among the welfare applicants group, assist those who failed to get into rehabilitation, and promote fairness to the taxpayers.

Barksy, A. 2005. Alcohol, Other Drugs and Addictions: A Professional Development Manual for Social Work and the Human Services. US: Cengage Learning. Falk, G. 2012. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Block Grant: A Primer on TANF Financing and Federal Requirements. US: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Mehay, S. & Pacula, R. 1999. The Effectiveness of Workplace Drug Prevention Policies: Does ‘Zero Tolerance’ Work? US: The National Bureau of Economic Research.

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"Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested?" StudyScroll, 8 March 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested? [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 4 June, 2023]

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"Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested?" StudyScroll, Mar 8, 2016.

"Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested?" StudyScroll, 8-Mar-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 4-Jun-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Should Those Be Applying for Welfare Be Drug Tested?. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 4-Jun-2023]

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