Are Drug Classes Answer for Welfare Recipients?

by: Mike Miller

One of the latest ideas circulating around the country is to drug test welfare recipients.

There are some who think it is unconstitutional. Others believe it is a waste of time and money. Yet a growing number of people do not want to see government subsidy going to promote the use of illegal drugs.

What do you think?

Begin with a premise — welfare recipients often use drugs — and build state law based on it.

Kansas is among the latest states with a proposal to drug-test welfare recipients, with expulsion for too many positive results.

No one likes the idea of welfare recipients using drugs. Besides the use of taxpayer money, drug habits undercut achieving self-sufficiency or harm children in the household. It’s pretty easy for most people to conjure the image of the lazy, crack-addicted mother abusing food stamps. That’s the problem.

Studies have shown that taxpayers, that is, the general public, use drugs at higher rates than welfare recipients. And where drugs are a problem, it’s often combined with other factors.

Is it a Waste of Money?

Using the state of Florida as an example it would appear so. The state passed such testing last year. Preliminary findings showed 2 percent of people getting aid failed the tests. And 96 percent passed, meaning the state had to eat the costs of their tests.

People who didn’t test clean had to pay for the test. That’s the plan in Kansas too, under a recently introduced bill.

Wanting to help people become self-sufficient is often behind such laws. Good objective. Wrong approach.

A 2004 study by the National Poverty Center concluded that while substance use, abuse, and dependence are barriers to self-sufficiency, so are poor education, lack of transportation, physical and mental health problems, and many other difficulties that are more common than substance abuse among welfare recipients.

Does that lead to the conclusion that even if all welfare recipients stopped using illicit drugs, society would see little decline in welfare rolls?

I do not like the idea of government money going to buy drugs and alcohol. My solution might be to require any welfare recipient who ever has been arrested for drugs or alcohol should have to take a drug and alcohol class before receiving welfare payments. They should be tested randomly for up to three years. If they fail another drug or alcohol test they should forfeit their welfare payments.