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!