Government Programs Should Not Encourage Lifelong Dependency
We are overdue to renew welfare reform efforts and make additional gains
December 15, 2011
Drug testing ensures that welfare truly helps those in need. One of the most significant substantive accomplishments coming out of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress was welfare reform. In 1996, Congress passed—and President Clinton signed—the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. This cut welfare rolls from 4.6 million families receiving cash benefits in 1996 to 2.1 million in 2002 and resulted in significantly more people getting jobs or participating in job-training programs. Still, we are overdue to renew welfare reform efforts and make additional gains.
One provision in every renewed welfare reform effort should be to require recipients to undergo random drug tests as a condition of receiving benefits. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported in 2007 that approximately 20 percent of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients reported having used an illicit drug at least once in the past year, and at least 5 percent admitted that they had a substance addiction.
Random testing would accomplish two vital goals: 1) help those recipients with drug problems conquer them by identifying the problem, offering treatment, and not paying them until they get help; and 2) not waste precious taxpayer dollars on buying drugs.
Critics have argued that mandatory drug testing is an unfair attack on the poor, but the most compelling reason to require it is to truly help those affected. And it's requiring no more than millions of private employers require of employees in order for them to work for a paycheck.
Requiring screenings would give addicts a key incentive to seek help so that they can once again be healthy, support their own families, and make positive contributions to our society. Screenings would identify cases of dependency and would be paired with treatment programs to directly address the single biggest problem in their lives.
Just think if it were a matter of giving a friend or brother a loan to help them out in tough times. Would any of us do this knowing that he had a serious drug problem and not first demanding and helping him seek treatment to overcome his addiction? If we did, would that represent true love, care, and compassion?
Even the strongest supporters of welfare would have to agree that government programs should not encourage lifelong dependency, but should instead provide a limited safety net that still encourages people to return to a self-sufficient way of life. Of course there's a second reason to do this—our responsibility to the taxpayer. Every welfare dollar that goes toward one recipient's drug habit is one less dollar that goes toward a child in need or a family that would spend that money on real needs.
America is facing a national debt of more than $14 trillion. We simply can't afford for government agencies to be careless in how they spend our tax dollars. And with potentially billions of dollars of welfare funds ending up in the wrong places or being spent on illegal drugs, the least we can do is make sure that money is going where it's actually supposed to go. No one doubts that many of our fellow Americans are facing some incredible challenges. With an economy on life support, debt at crisis levels, and a staggering number of unemployed, we must all collectively do a better job of helping our neighbors in need and being good stewards with limited means. Common-sense welfare reform, including drug testing for recipients, is a vital step in the right direction.