Drug Testing Welfare Applicants: Unethical, Unnecessary, and a Waste of Money and Time

poverty, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the article titled “What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients” by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel.  The article follows the rise of policies aimed at drug testing TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program applicants that have emerged in state legislatures across the country.  These states–which include Montana, Texas, and West Virginia–want to drug test applicants to the states’ food stamps and unemployment insurance programs.

States that have already implemented similar programs–such as Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah–are spending millions on the drug testing programs alone.  Not only does the act of drug testing applicants raise ethical issues, but the drug testing programs themselves are costing states far too much money and this money comes out of the budgets of the welfare programs.

The article quotes one welfare rights advocate who argues soundly that this is a waste of money that should be spent on helping, and not hurting, TANF applicants: “‘The main impact of it is first…to spend TANF money that could go into other things,’ said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, a non-profit focused on policy for low-income individuals. While many states told ThinkProgress that the funds don’t necessarily come out of the pot that would go to TANF benefits, it’s still money that could go elsewhere. ‘The money could certainly be spent on other things if it wasn’t going to drug testing,’ she said. ‘Even if it’s a state where it can’t go to into childcare or cash assistance, it probably comes out of their administration pot, so that’s caseworkers and things like that.’”

The article also addresses the fact that these drug testing policies  impact social stigmas surrounding seeking state assistance (e.g. welfare/TANF benefits) and drug use.  These policies can discourage drug users from seeking help and economically disadvantaged folks from seeking TANF benefits.  A must read for anyone interesting in homelessness, poverty, inequality, and welfare politics!


NY Times Article Illustrates Problems with Gov’t Programs that Define “Deserving” Poor

homelessness, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the NY Times article “Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America” by Patricia Cohen

This article highlights the problems with structuring American welfare programs on concepts of “deservingness” of citizens, as those who do not “deserve” government assistance are left on their own with no social safety net or support.  Married parents, low wage workers, the elderly, and the disabled have been categorized by welfare policy as “deserving” citizens and beneficiaries of welfare programs, while single mothers and those who have barriers to work (ex-felons who are continuously discriminated against in the hiring process and then in the workplace, former or current addicts, etc.) have been cast as “undeserving” in welfare policy.  In studies of the American welfare state, this concept of dividing citizens into categories based on their “deservingness” is referred to as the “Two Tiered Welfare State”…This NY Times article does a great job of showing (and not just telling!) these differences through interviews with people who are struggling to get by and have been placed into different categories by welfare policies.

The article chronicles the journey of Charles Constance who was denied Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the state of FL before moving to and applying for benefits in the state of LA.  His experiences shed light on the problems with TANF.  In order to receive the meager stipend from the government ($123 per month in Mr. Constance’s case), Constance had to work or do community service.  With a nine year old son, the commute to community service locations became trying.

If you are interested in reading more about the “two tiers” of the welfare state, check out some of the following books:

Deborah Stone Policy Paradox

Christopher Howard The Welfare State Nobody Knows 

Marie Johnson, Georgia Duerst-Lahti, Noelle H. Norton The Sexual Politics of Welfare Policy

Linda Gordon  The Welfare State: Towards a Socialist-Feminist Perspective