Only Winners Are Companies Making the Drug Tests
Suggesting welfare recipients are worthy of suspicion unfairly singles the group out for disdain
December 15, 2011
Drug-testing participants in government benefits programs is bad policy.
Stereotypes are often attached to families who need temporary help from government benefits programs. But suggesting that they are drug users or otherwise worthy of suspicion unfairly singles the group out for disdain. And it opens the door to cutting funds that provide basic subsistence to vulnerable children and their mothers.
This treatment is all the more absurd when one considers all the other people who receive government funds but aren't required to submit to drug testing. There are also stereotypes about Wall Street drug use, but Congress didn't ask those folks to pee in a cup before bailing them out.
There is no justification for drug testing social service beneficiaries. There hasn't been enough research and different studies have produced different results. In Florida, the most recent state trying a drug testing requirement, it was shown that Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF (the former AFDC or welfare program), applicants were actually less likely than the general population to abuse drugs.
Drug testing also costs money. During this period of elevated poverty, governments at all levels are slashing the budgets of vital services that help low-income families weather temporary setbacks. And yet conservatives who complain about spending on the poor want to devote more resources to new efforts? These new expenditures would not be directed at helping low-income people, but at policing them (or harassing them, depending on how you look at it). The only winners in that scenario are the companies manufacturing the drug tests.
Many of these policy proposals are aimed at suspending or ending the participation of mothers who test positive. There are far better policy options available. We could invest in social workers to diagnose and treat the underlying causes of unemployment. Maybe it's more education, child care, or—for a much smaller group of mothers—drug or alcohol rehabilitation that's needed. Helping mothers is far better for their innocent children than simply drug testing them—and then kicking families that fail to the curb without concern for whether they will be able to do basic things like eat or have shelter.