Welfare Drug Tests Don't Work, So Now Republicans Want Them Everywhere

In an enormous surprise to nobody who saw it fail miserably in Florida, it turns out that drug-testing applicants for welfare doesn't work well anywhere else, either.

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Think Progress reviewed the seven states that currently require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and found that they're all spending a huge amount of money to "ferret out very few drug users." Imagine that! In addition to being found unconstitutional, at least in Florida so far, the programs don't find many drug users: a far smaller percentage than in the general population. But that's not stopping about a dozen other states -- including Montana, Texas, West Virginia, and the libertarian paradise that is Wisconsin, of course -- from proposing such programs, because slapping poor people around is always politically popular.

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In the seven states that drug test TANF applicants -- Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah -- it would appear that the hardcore druggies aren't applying for welfare, and the people applying for welfare aren't hardcore druggies. Tennessee, for example, busted a whopping 0.2 percent of people who applied for public assistance.

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Think Progress also notes:

The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.

In the meantime, money that could be going to actually helping people is going to piss tests, which is at least helping the companies that run the labs, so there's some economic benefit. It doesn't seem to be getting many abusers into treatment programs, either, since even in states where the tests are framed as "helping," drug users are likely scared away from applying for assistance -- so not only do they keep using, their kids get to go hungry, too, as God intended. Not that there's enough treatment available for the few people who do test positive.

Not everyone actually gets a lab test -- in most states, they first take a written "screening," and then those who seem likely to be using get to pee in a cup. The criteria for testing vary -- you might be handed a cup if "reasonable suspicion exists" that you're using a controlled substance, or if you've got a “reasonable likelihood” of having a “substance use disorder.” All of those "reasonable" clauses are a way of avoiding the fate of the Florida law, which mandated random testing of anyone who was receiving benefits.

A few sample results of these excellent uses of taxpayer money:

  • Missouri tested 446 of the state’s 38,970 TANF applicants at a cost of $336,297 and had 48 positive drug tests in 2014.
  • Utah screened 9,552 applicants between August 2012 and July of 2014, gave lab tests to 838 of them, and got 29 positive results.
  • Arizona has screened 142,424 applicants since 2014, referred only 42 of them for testing -- a bargain at just $499 -- and of those folks, only 19 actually were tested, with 3 positives.

There are court challenges against the more specific laws anyway; Georgia's drug testing is currently on hold while it's being tested in the courts. But other states think that Getting Tough on welfare applicants is a terrific idea, and so still more testing laws are on the way.

As of this writing, no recipients of corporate tax credits, farm price supports, federal military contracts, oil subsidies, or tax incentives to build union-free factories are required to prove that they can pass a piss test.


Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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