No Savings with Welfare Drug Testing

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An excellent article in the Providence Rhode Island Journal makes the case against testing welfare recipients for drug use. The much touted savings by denying benefits to those who test positive just don’t seem to be there.

Interestingly, while there has always been political will to reduce or eliminate welfare payouts, the actual implementation of reductions has met with strong resistance. In times of economic stress, however, cost savings were seen as a way to get the welfare system modified. And that’s why drug testing welfare recipients to reduce the roles caught on. This new analysis leaves that angle without much punch at all.

This doesn’t mean that welfare benefits, which are run on a state by state basis (outside of federal programs, like food stamps), aren’t getting reduced. Some states have lowered the time someone can get welfare (for certain categories of aid) and all states have the power to reduce benefits.

Without the drug testing argument, those who want welfare reform have to fall back on more traditional ideas about who deserves a handout and who doesn’t.

The stereotype remains though: a low-income person who is getting state aid and spending it on drugs or alcohol instead of their family’s needs. The protection against this will continue to be social workers who evaluate families and investigators who look for fraud.

There is also a middle ground in the report. Instead of testing everyone on welfare for substance abuse, testing could be limited only to those with a history or those who show signs of addiction. Doing it this way lowers the overall cost of testing and captures more of those who need help. The question of whether or not you can stop paying benefits is still a tricky one. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes a history of drug and alcohol addiction as a medical problem. In part, it says, “A person who is an alcoholic may be an "individual with a disability" under the ADA.”

It remains to be seen whether these barriers to legislation will be surmounted by those wishing to limit welfare benefits on the basis of drug or alcohol use.

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