Drug testing welfare recipients

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Some states in the United States of America have enacted or proposed legislation requiring drug testing of people applying for welfare. As of March 2014, laws requiring applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to be drug tested have been enacted in at least nine different states.[1]

Arguments for[edit]

Proponents of such laws have supported them with a variety of goals in mind, including getting help for drug users on public assistance and avoiding "subsidizing drug habits" with public money.[1] Drug testing welfare recipients will also get people off of government assistance who are abusing the system, which will save tax dollars for the American people.

Arguments against[edit]

Opponents have criticized these laws for costing more money than they save.[2] Eric Liu has criticized drug tests of welfare recipients, which are often promoted by Republican lawmakers, as hypocritical, as they promote government paternalism.[3] Executives of the non-profit group CLASP have stated that the laws will have a chilling effect on the willingness of existing welfare recipients to admit themselves to drug treatment.[4] Additionally, public policy professor Harold Pollack wrote that "Other physical and mental health problems are far more prevalent. Yet these less-moralized concerns receive much less attention from legislators or the general public."[5] The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed welfare drug testing laws in Florida and expressed concern about the proposal gaining traction in other states.[6] Almost all scholarly articles on the subject of suspicionless drug testing of welfare recipients has concluded that this testing violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[7]

Laws by state[edit]


In 2009, Arizona became the first state to enact a drug-testing law for welfare applicants.[8]


In December 2013, federal judge Mary Stenson Scriven struck down a Florida law, passed in May 2011, that required welfare recipients to be drug tested before they could receive benefits.[9] Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, had endorsed the legislation, and said he intended to appeal Scriven's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.[10]


In April 2014, Georgia governor Nathan Deal signed a bill requiring drug testing for welfare applicants whom state employees suspected had been using drugs.[11]


In December 2014, Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan, signed a bill beginning a pilot program whereby welfare recipients in three Michigan counties will be drug tested if they are suspected of having used drugs.[12]


From August 2012 to July 2013, Utah spent over $30,000 on drug testing welfare applicants. State Representative Brad Wilson claimed in September 2013 that the program had saved more than $350,000 based on a drop of 247 applicants for TANF after the drug testing was instituted.[13]


Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, has endorsed drug testing for welfare recipients.[14]

Drug usage rates[edit]

In Utah, 2.6% of welfare applicants tested positive, which is considerably lower than the national average of 8.9%.[15][not in citation given] A 2015 study by ThinkProgress found that out of seven states reporting data on welfare drug testing, only one had a usage rate above 1%.[4]


  1. ^ a b Grovum, Jake (6 March 2014). "Some states still pushing drug testing for welfare". USA Today. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  2. ^ Cunha, Darlena (15 August 2014). "Why Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is a Waste of Taxpayer Money". Time. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  3. ^ Liu, Eric (18 December 2014). "Wall Street CEOs should take drug test". CNN. Retrieved 2 January 2015. ...it's the height of hypocrisy for limited-government conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who claim they want government out of people's lives, to champion such intrusive, shaming forms of paternalism.
  4. ^ a b Covert, Bryce; Israel, Josh (2015-02-26). "What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients". ThinkProgress. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  5. ^ Pollack, Harold (2013-06-05). "States want drug tests for welfare recipients. That's a terrible idea". Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  6. ^ Ganeva, Tana (2015-10-17). "5 reasons drug testing welfare recipients is profoundly stupid". Alternet. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  7. ^ Wurman, Ilan (May 2013). "Drug Testing Welfare Recipients as a Constitutional Condition". Stanford Law Review. 65 (5). SSRN 2212509.
  8. ^ Editorial Board (18 March 2012). "Editorial: Drug testing welfare applicants nets little". USA Today. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  9. ^ Cohen, Andrew (6 January 2014). "Poverty in a Cup: Why a Federal Judge Rejected a Florida Drug-Test Requirement". The Atlantic. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  10. ^ Associated Press (31 December 2013). "Judge nixes Florida's welfare drug testing". Fox News. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  11. ^ "Georgia to demand drug tests for welfare recipients". Russia Today. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  12. ^ Ramsey, Nick (27 December 2014). "Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder OKs drug tests for welfare recipients". MSNBC. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  13. ^ Price, Michelle (8 September 2013). "Utah's welfare drug testing saved more than $350,000 in first year, officials say". Deseret News. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  14. ^ Schwarz, Hunter (11 November 2014). "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to drug test welfare recipients". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  15. ^ Kelly, Brian P. (29 August 2013). "An inane, money-eating sham: Drug tests for welfare a huge failure". Salon. Retrieved 29 December 2014.