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Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Doesn’t Save Money


drug test testing welfareVirtually every day that I am on Facebook, I see memes calling for drug testing for welfare recipients. It’s something that conservatives have called for often. The principle behind their theory is that states would save money if they could prevent failed drug testers from receiving welfare. It’s an issue that gets people very fired up, especially conservatives who often see welfare recipients as free-loaders. But if the point is to save money, then it should be very easy to determine if drug testing welfare recipients pencils out by simply looking at the math.

Think Progress recently released an analysis of states that drug test welfare recipients, how much the states spent, and how many people failed the drug test. Below are excerpts that show the results:


While the legislature has kept the rule each year since its 2010 implementation, very few people have actually even been referred for drug testing after completing a written drug use statement. Since 2014, more than 140,000 Arizona TANF recipients have been screened by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Just 42 have been referred for a drug test over that time — of the 19 who completed the test, only three have ever tested positive.


A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Children and Families told ThinkProgress, “The first three months of implementation yielded very few drug tests, as staff became comfortable with the criteria. Referrals have increased since that time. So far, 65 individuals have been referred for suspicion-based drug testing. 11 tested positive [and]12 failed to appear for their scheduled test appointment.”


Over the first five months, 3,656 TANF applicants were screened for use of illegal substances and 38 were referred for drug testing. Just two tested positive.


In 2011, Missouri adopted a law to require screening and testing for all TANF applicants, and the testing began in March 2013. In 2014, 446 of the state’s 38,970 applicants were tested. Just 48 tested positive.


From November 2012 through November 2014, 3,342 applicants were screened and 2,992 selected for further testing (though those numbers could include some who applied more than once). Two-hundred and ninety-seven tested positive for illegal substances.


The program went into effect in July 2014 and, between that time and the end of the year, 16,017 applied for Families First, Tennessee’s TANF program. Of those, 279 were given drug tests and 37 failed them.


Between its implementation in August 2012 and July of 2014, 9,552 applicants were screened and 838 were given drug tests. Just 29 tested positive at a cost of more than $64,000, according to a Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman.


Anyone who tells you that there is an epidemic of welfare recipients doing drugs is wrong. The national drug use rate is 9.4%. When you look at these numbers, and calculate the ratios, welfare recipients have a drug use rate of 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, with most of the states falling closer to the lower number. If the purpose of these programs is to save money, they have failed, and in some states’ cases, they have failed miserably. Imagine if the money that went to drug testing went towards finding these families jobs? I guess there’s no way to know until states do that, but the states listed above seem to be sticking with their programs because they are politically popular with conservatives, and not because the math pencils out.


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Johnny Green


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  3. How about police, who carry guns. Judges who set laws. Teachers who frame our young people’s lives. Doctors who have access to all kinds of drugs, why aren’t they tested? I’m with you man.

  4. Dwaine Smith on

    Violence? Violence and greed? Yes ,if u get welfare you should be tested. Why should hard earned tax dollars help lazy drug attics? If u have money for drugs then u should buy food or clothing first. Sounds like the welfare recipients who want to use drugs and get assistance are the greedy ones. If this EVER turned violent they would also lead the charge.

  5. Janet Eddington on

    If you apply for welfare and test positive, you don’t get it. Period. Even in states with mandated drug testing for welfare, 100% are not tested. The seemingly lower than expected positive drug tests just means out of 100 applicants say 40 are tested and of those 70% test positive(28 people) published results will say 3/4 of people tested – test negative. That is a lie. People who’s tax dollars go to pay for welfare aren’t aware of this. If they fully understood, I believe they would demand legislation to keep welfare from going to lazy entitled underserving leeches. We all want worthy people to have help. Some people will suffer short term.Life is full of unfortunate realities. People should prove they value the help, if they test positive- how about they change their ways-so they qualify. Depending on how applicants answer questions, the likelihood of being a drug user is triggered and those people are tested. That is ridiculous. All must be tested and tested regularly with complete compliance. Testing is expensive. The government must reduce benefits and use money to cover testing 100% of recipients monthly, cost of test kit, lab fees, and extra man power it takes to achieve 100% regular testing of everyone. The truth ispeople who get welfare,DO use drugs more often, especially marijuana, at a higher rate than published. Factually speaking, in the black community, marijuana use is as much a part of life as brushing your teeth. I’d rather my tax dollars were used toward financing putting in place and maintaining 100% monthly testing of all people on welfare, even if it means less benefits for everyone. If I tested positive for drugs, I would be fired immediately, no questions asked. I knew this when I signed on. I want my job so I make the correct choices. The difference between me and most chronic welfare takers is this….I don’t feel intitled to anything. From anyone. Ever. I’ve worked since I turned 14 yrs. old. I am 56 now. Ive had times in life when I had to scramble to make ends meet, so I understand the concept of needing help. I venture to say the majority of people who are up in arms about drug testing for welfare are pot heads. Yep I said it, and you know It’s true.

  6. I wish I had time to explain my whole views on the marijuana issue, which is very backwards to most that know me since I am a non-smoker anti-crime person. By that I mean, and in regards to this one article, it’s about the “illegal” part. Get the stuff legalized and we won’t have these problems. Testing 100% of all welfare recipients is fine by me, but marijuana shouldn’t be considered. The amount of $ wasted by our country “fighting” marijuana, which shouldn’t be an issue in the first place, is just freaking crazy to me.

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  8. I am thankful for the menial job I have, but I feel we are capable of much more, and yet are told we can not partake in this or that activity, just yesterday, or was it this morning on the news, they were talking about banning people that use things to enhance their lives in some sport activity, more discrimination, why can’t we do away with all that kind of mean-nnes anyway – it seems the only right thing to do to get along with others, is not to war upon them and tell them they are banned from employment, lol, good thing about my job is there is a high turn over, which gives me security of sorts, as i know i am good at what i do and so do others, and that cannabis enhances my job and my life, and my happiness, and health for the good, and for that i am very thankful, as my health is my wealth, and I am a proud cannabliss consumer :-)

    and I and enjoy lots of things, but cannabis is integral to the experience, as it gives me the spirit, along with mood to adjust to most conditions with ease in my job for instance, where otherwise, I would have quit long ago too

  9. It is not about Stereo Types or picking on the poor. I know so many people who abuse the system and you probably do too. It wasn’t until the 20th Century that Welfare ever existed. You don’t work you don’t eat!! Seems cruel but there has to be consequences for the choice you make. You can’t expect a good life if you make bad choices. Why do people expect everyone else to pay for their bad choices?? I have been homeless, lived in the back of a pickup. I had to change my life to make it better. The government told me I was a young white male and I don’t get any help. In retrospect that was the best help I could have gotten.
    Violence and Greed has nothing to do with this. As long as you expect the Government or anyone else for that matter to be responsible for you and meet your needs you will never go anywhere or fix the problem. Stand on your own 2 feet and you will be so much better off.

  10. and screening is not constitutional in a free and happy and dapper healthy well behaved society, in keeping up the appearances of good

  11. i disagree, as “screening” is discrimination, and discriminating people from communities across the usa from employment is economic suicide

  12. I think that drug testing for welfare is amoral and messed up. What are we supposed to do, let people go hungry or homeless because of drug use or battling drug addiction? We are a society of violence and greed.

  13. Few seem to consider the consequence of outing “the drug user.”
    If we are so blinded by contemptuous ideologies that we are unable to address addiction as a real medical disease…if we simply look at drug users as those who choose to use drugs (as apposed to those suffering from addictions) then what real “savings” are there once we’ve stripped away someone’s right to receive LEGAL financial assistance? How are those who suffer from substance addictions expected to afford their basic needs?…because if we know anything about addiction…we know not having adequate funds will absolutely not detour a user. One might argue that “we shouldn’t give a user funds to purchase their poison…tough love we could argue…but if we strip away financial resources…then what options are there for these users other than to take the funds from our pockets directly…literally. If these people have children…should we take what little the children have and and suggest that their salvation will come with their parent’s new found reality of being forced to clean-up their act?
    Maybe if we were able to address the real issues we wouldn’t be so quick to resort to mid evil idealisms. Casting stones and public lynching only existed back then because people didn’t know any better right???

  14. Shouldn’t the solution be for no one to have to pass a drug screen as a condition of employment / TANF, rather than subjecting everyone to an unjust system? That kind of thinking pits the lower classes against the working and middle classes. You know who never has to pass a drug test? Hedge fund managers. CEOs. Politicians. The system wasn’t set up that way by accident.

  15. Everyone else in this country has to drug screen prior to employment. If I don’t show or miss my appointment guess what I don’t get the job or I will loose my job. Everyone should have to test not just a random selection. If they want to stay on roles then provide randoms, but all should have to screen at the beginning.

  16. Let’s not pretend this is just a conservative thing. That is biased and not entirely true. Sure, they are MORE guilty on this specific issue, but hardly alone. And this isn’t a new thing either. Drug testing welfare recipients has been attempted since Bill Clinton’s welfare reform efforts in the 90s. It can even be traced back to the progressive movement for alcohol prohibition.

    What is worse than these drug tests, are the drug tests for our students all over this country, including in liberal, Democrat controlled areas. Even in cities like Chicago and states like Illinois, with complete Democrat control, they love watching kids pee. And you won’t find even one liberal teachers’ union standing up for those kids either. They go right along with administering drug tests to kids in their schools.

    Who is pushing for those drug tests for kids? Mostly liberal parent teacher associations populated with more mothers than fathers. Not to be sexist, but the polls show women/mothers are less likely to support legalization and more likely to support drug testing of kids. Many of the school board members that implement student drug testing in their schools are backed and financed by the teachers’ unions.

    It really is sad to see those teachers’ unions fight like crazy when parents ask that teachers be drug tested, but they go right along with drug testing the students. At least the teachers’ unions have it half right protecting their own members from invasive drug testing, and they get applause for that, but they really need to start expanding that privacy issue to their students to retain credibility.

    Frankly, I don’t see government drug testing people as a conservative versus liberal issue. Both liberals and conservatives have no problem with the government having the power to administer drug tests on innocent children and adults for whatever reason they see fit. For me, this is more of a Constitutional issue, and government versus the people issue. The 4th and 5th Amendments should apply here.

    Both Democrat and Republican politicians and judges have violated and ignored the 4th and 5th Amendments when it comes to drug testing and the drug war in general. Both liberals and conservatives have looked the other way while our Constitution has been gutted. You’ll get more conservatives fighting back against policies like drug testing by pointing out the rule of law, than you will by singling them out for the blame.

    We’re all “conservatives” on some issue or another. That is not a bad thing. Perhaps the more of us who realize this isn’t a Democrat versus Republican country, but a Democrat AND Republican versus the Constitution and the people country will help us get the reforms and changes we need much quicker than just waiting on those two parties to finally come around on such issues decades after the general public.

  17. Anyone who tells you that the usa is corrupt, and wages war on its on people, and is for high treasonous scum is right on.

  18. Spot-on, Johnny Green. These laws are of course a cynical attempt to use stereotypes about poor people as an excuse to shrink the size of states’ welfare rolls. As you point out, the rate of drug use among TANF recipients is no higher, and in some cases quite lower, than that of the population at large. Of course, no one has to pass a drug test to receive corporate welfare, which constitutes a hell of a lot more money in lost tax revenue than what we spend to help people down on their luck feed their families from month to month.

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