There is a growing trend among states to test welfare recipients for drug use. According to the New York Times, three dozen states, such as Arizona, Missouri and Indiana, have passed policies that drug test those who receive government assistance, such as food stamps, unemployment assistance and public housing.
State officials want to make sure that welfare benefits are being used for their intended purpose. At first this might sound like a good idea – however, these testing policies are beginning to prove their inefficiency.
Florida has required those who receive cash assistance to pay for their own drug tests since July. Of those tested before October 10, 7,030 passed, 32 failed and 1,597 “did not provide results,” according to the Times.
Welfare recipients are already in an unfortunate situation and apply for government benefits because they cannot feed themselves or their families. These people are poor and stressed, but that does not mean they are drug users. By enforcing these policies, state governments simply re-enforce prejudice views that poor people are bad parents, lazy or spend all their money on drugs.
Paying for the drug tests, which cost up to $40 in Florida, according to the Times, could mean a welfare recipient, who receives an average $253 a month “for less than five months” doesn’t eat that day. The state will reimburse those who pass the test, but a lot can happen financially in the time it takes for results to come back and the government to pay out.
According to the Times, enrollment in government assistance in Florida is at its lowest levels since the recession began. The American Civil Liberties Union has even argued that the drug tests violate the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Forcing down-on-their-luck individuals to take a drug test is like adding insult to injury. Yes, there are people on welfare who use their benefits to purchase drugs. However, this simply means they have a problem greater than themselves. Those who lose their benefits because drugs are found in their system may only become more dependent on drugs to cope with stress, perpetuating the problem.
According to the Times, the majority of welfare recipients who failed tests in other states with similar policies failed because of marijuana use – an act that may be legalized in the future. According to ABC News, the California Medical Association, the states largest physician group, officially recommended this month that marijuana be legalized. According to a Gallup poll, more than half of Americans support the legalization of the substance.
State governments are right to attempt to ensure that tax dollars are not squandered. But will they also go after those who use funds to purchase new clothes, electronics or cars? There are plenty of legal items that also divert money away from its intended use – however, those cannot be as easily demonized.
Jessica Guinyard is a senior majoring in political science and sociology.