The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 gave states the authority to drug test individuals who were receiving welfare benefits (ACLU, 2008). It did not, however, create legislation that made such tests mandatory. The debate has been raised as to whether or not mandatory drug testing is appropriate before supplying taxpayer-furnished welfare benefits to ensure the money is being well-spent and will not be exhausted on drug purchases.
II. The Issue of Disadvantages
Here, the debate will argue two distinct disadvantages to mandatory drug testing. There runs the possibility of receiving what is referred to as “false positives” when being tested for a variety of drugs. A study conducted in the 1990s with a sample group of single, welfare receiving mothers identified that 11.8 percent of individuals with no current drug dependency had false positive reports (Pollack, Danzinger, Jayakody & Seefeldt, 2001). Individuals, then, who are currently not taking drugs might lose important benefits due to these testing errors.
There are also significant costs of undertaking drug testing, including materials, labor, and other administrative expenses. The state of Utah calculated that in order for the system to test each and every welfare recipient only once, it would cost $255,080 (ACLU, 2010). The Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates a much higher cost of $3.4 million annually (Children’s Action Alliance, 2002). These are funds that come from taxpayers that could be spent on other programs with more guaranteed outcomes of success.
III. The Advantages
Research has shown that people who are addicted to drugs often have relapses even when they are trying to recover (Children’s Action Alliance). Therefore, individuals who are making legitimate efforts to curb this addiction to ensure a better quality of life for their struggling children could be cut off because they experienced a one-time relapse and achieved a true positive on their drug test results.
ACLU. (2010). “Issue Brief: Drug Testing of TANF Recipients”, American Civil Liberties
Union. Retrieved November 7, 2011 from http://www.acluutah.org/TANFDrugTesting.pdf
ACLU. (2008). “Drug Testing of Public Assistance Recipients as a Condition of Eligibility”,
American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved November 7, 2011 from
Children’s Action Alliance. (2008). “House Bill 2678 – Drug Testing of Temporary
Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) Recipients”. Retrieved November 7, 2011 from
Pollack, H., Danziger, S., Jayakody, R. & Seefeldt, K. (2001). “Drug Testing Welfare
Recipients – False Positives, False Negatives, Unanticipated Opportunities”. Retrieved
November 7, 2011 from http://www.fordschool.umich.edu/research/poverty/pdf/drugtest.pdf
Thalman, James. (2009). “Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients?”, Deseret News, Utah.
Retrieved November 6, 2011 from http://utahcap.org/uploads/850991_Deseret%20News%20%7C%20Drug%20testing%20for%20welfare%20recipients%206-17-09.pdf
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