• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • States Expand Welfare Drug Testing



    Governor Sam Brownback (R–KS) signed a law last month that requires drug screening for Kansas recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It joins Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah as states with laws requiring some form of substance screening for welfare recipients.

    A 2007 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation discovered that 20 percent of TANF recipients self-report using illegal drugs—likely an undercount, according to the researchers. Five percent report drug abuse or dependence, and 6.5 percent report alcohol abuse.

    If the goal of welfare is to promote self-sufficiency, the most basic first step, state lawmakers have argued, is stopping drug use that hampers their entry into the job market.

    The Kansas law requires welfare applicants to take a medical drug test only if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the recipient is abusing drugs. If welfare recipients fail the drug test, then they are required to enroll in a drug treatment program and a job skills program and would lose benefits only if they fail to follow the treatment program. Those who are convicted of criminal drug use lose eligibility for five years, and repeat offenders become permanently ineligible (but a failing recipient’s children would continue to receive benefits through a designated third party).

    The Texas Senate unanimously passed a similar drug testing bill for its TANF program this spring, and the Michigan House passed a comparable measure. The Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, and Minnesota state legislatures have each taken up legislation on drug testing for various public assistance programs this year as well.

    The most compassionate policy will create incentives to stop destructive behavior instead of allowing tax dollars to fuel it, promoting the basic responsibility necessary for future employment. As Heritage welfare experts Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley write:

    Means-tested welfare assistance…should be given on the basis of reciprocal obligation. Taxpayers should provide support to those in need, and recipients in return should engage in responsible and constructive behavior as a condition of receiving aid. Requiring welfare recipients to stop using illegal drugs is a core element of reciprocal obligation.

    In addition, taxpayers deserve to know their money is being used to help the downtrodden, not to enable harmful substance abuse. “As welfare spending approaches $1 trillion a year, taxpayers have a right to insist that their financial help not only goes to those who truly need it but that it’s not wasted on frivolous or self-destructive activities such as drug use,” Rector writes for U.S News & World Report.

    States and the federal government should expand drug screening for programs providing taxpayer welfare support. Drug screening encourages those on drugs to make a positive change toward personal responsibility and independence.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    Comments are closed.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.