Random Drug Screening for Welfare Recipients

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Discussions regarding drug testing for people receiving state assistance

Discussions regarding the requirement for drug testing for people receiving state assistance started back in 1966 with the federal Welfare Reform. The act did not require for states to subject their welfare receivers to drug tests, provided for Temporary Assistance for the Needy Families (TANF) among other grants to the states allowed for drug screens recipients after the law enactment. Several states have enacted legislation on drug screening around this matter. Twenty states and twelve considered such bills in 2009 and 2010 respectively (Chambers 173). However, only a small number have succeeded because of the legal dilemma surrounding the implementation of random drug screens. A good example of such constraint is a 2003 ruling where the court of appeal sitting in Michigan ruled random drug screen for welfare with no evidenced of drug abuse as illegal. Another one was a 2013 Florida federal judge decided that it was unconstitutional for states to run such drug tests. Despite the numerous constraints, twelve states between 2012 and 2014 were able to pass laws that required drug testing for welfare recipients. Today, 15 states have some form of legislation requiring that individuals who are receiving state assistance be screened for drugs under specific circumstances. It is an issue that dominated debates for legislators in 2016 a situation that has enabled 17 states to have certain legislation on drug screening for all welfare beneficiaries.

Economic benefits of random drug screening

From an economic perspective, one of the most significant benefits of the random drug screening includes the potential strain reduction in state aid programs and savings for taxpayers. One place that these benefits have been realized in the past in Florida. It was after Governor Rick Scott planned a drug testing campaign for welfare recipients back in 2008. When the program stated, it had a whopping $3.6 billion shortfall in the budget, however, in 2009, Florida saved $ 198, 400 from the program that was associated with a cost of about $178 million (Fitzsimons et al. 630). It can be viewed as a small difference, but the projection was that more savings would be realized. Additionally, the relatively dismal amounts of savings have encouraged a dialogue regarding the drug testing with the aim of stopping state-funded drug use.

Deterrence of drug use through testing

Apart from the economical aspect attached to the random drug testing, such a policy can also deter people who are receiving state assistance from using illegal drugs. It is also fair to carry out such tests considering that other independent agencies and corporations also carry out the screening. Drug abuse and its associated costs and impact on the society is something that must be dealt with (DuPont et al. 840). Individual receiving state assistance should be subjected to random drug screen to avoid wastage of public resources to finance drug abuse (Tsanaclis et al. 83). Individuals who have jobs should also be subjected to the random and pre-employment drug screens before getting the job or the salaries. It is an action that can allow the employer to determine what kind of an employee one is and thus can implement ways of improving his/her wellbeing and welfare.

Prevalence of drug abuse among state assistance recipients

Studies regarding the prevalence of drug abuse among recipients of state assistance have shown widely varied findings with rates of between 37 and 4 % reported. A lot of the variation in prevalence rates established in the studies is as a result of different sources of data, measurement methods, and definitions, in particular, the different threshold used in defining substance abuse. The question of whether the abuse of prescription drugs or alcohol abuse are included in these estimates is yet another key difference. Further, drug abuse and use among single men in States General Assistance (GA) caseloads are higher compared to single (mostly women) parents in TAHF (Phan et al. 650). As such, studies, which define welfare with GA beneficiaries included, usually find considerably higher rates.

Addressing substance abuse in the TANF program

In the past, states have always struggled when it comes to deciding whether substance abuse the TANF program context should be addressed as a criminal issue, a moral issue, a public health issue, or a social issue. Before reforms on welfare, a limited number of states made any efforts in identifying whether clients have an alcohol abuse problem or other drug-related problems. However, it changed after welfare reforms as self-sufficiency and employment became the primary program goals. Various states have identified that drug abuse is a major barrier to employment in the TANF era and have consequently established ways of encouraging drug abuse treatment for individuals in need of it (Pidd and Roche 154). Today many states already have established mechanisms of conducting drug abuse assessments and screening either as their TANK process of intake or later such after a fruitless job search or in the event a beneficiary quickly loses initial employment. Such efforts are very critical particularly in determining whether drug abuse is an actual barrier to securing employment.

Cost saving through drug testing

Cost saving is without a doubt the best result of random drug tests for individuals who are receiving state assistance, those looking for employment as well as those already employed. As stated above, several states anticipate that such screening among the TANF recipients and applicants would ensure money saving. Individuals who fail the screening, deterred from applying knowing they would be tested or do not comply with the test would help in decreasing the public assistance rolls. It is not easy to measure such savings, especially those from deterrence. For instance, according to an analysis of Idaho's public assistance programs, savings from deterring or removing individuals with substance abuse issues were estimated at $1.12 million. The cost associated with the screening and treatment of all approved applicants was between $1.2 and 1.3 million (Chambers 173). As such, the cost saving aspect of this test is something that should always be recognized considering that public resources are used for those who receive state assistance, and wastage should be avoided at all cost.

Benefit to child well-being

Child well-being is yet another critical benefit of random drug tests for those receiving state assistance and those who are employed as well as those seeking employment. A limited number of proposal suggest improvements in child well-being to result from drug screening even though provisions on protective payees for the benefits of children are intended at ensuring that money is spent on children needs (Pidd & Roche 154). Proposals sanctioning families by definition decrease the incur that is available to the family and might consequently reduce child wellbeing. Benefit and sanctions decreases have been proven to raise the risk that children will be hospitalized and even be faced with food insecurities. According to an Idaho analysis, children might be unintentionally harmed by drug screening programs considering that parents might refuse to apply for benefits fearing being subjected to drug screening or might refuse to complete treatment programs (Fitzsimons et al. 630). However, deterrent impacts of drug screening might result in the reduction of usage among welfare applicants with potential positive impacts on their children. Despite the limited research showing the impact of the test on the wellbeing of the children, the potential positive influence is enough reason for states to consider implementing drug testing programs and legislation.

Increased employability through drug screening

Random drug testing is a good way of ensuring increased employability. It is a good method of deterring, detecting, and remediating drug abuse as a vice that is a huge barrier to meaningful employment. Through the results of such tests, employers are able to determine whether the individual seeking employment or already employed is up to the task (DuPont et al. 840). Many employees always want to establish the vulnerability of their workers as well as their capabilities to deliver the required results. It can only be achieved by subjecting the employees to random drug testing to establish their capabilities. It does not mean that those who are test positive are completely unemployable. It only means that they can then be put on a treatment program, which can help them change their lives and stop substance abuse. As such, whether the results are good or bad, the aim is always to increase the employability of those who subject themselves to the screening. Moreover, it means that individuals can understand why an employer has decided to terminate their employment following a test. It offers a chance for such people to enroll in programs that can help them stay away from the vice and make them employable.

Prudent utilization of taxpayer money

The advantages associated with random drug test particularly among individuals receiving state assistance are numerous. First is the prudent utilization of taxpayer money. A limited number of people whose taxes fund the welfare system in this country would agree to the idea of having their hard-earned taxes helping individuals on the program to buy drugs. As such, random drug tests are critical in ensuring that people on welfare use the money provide for things like housing, food among other necessities, and not on buying drugs. Another clear advantage is the identification of individuals in need of drug abuse-related treatments (Ferris et al. 181). Drug abuse is a challenge that has affected the whole society and not just one person directly involved. As such, random and mandatory screening would be very helpful in identifying people who can benefit from drug abuse treatment so that they can be helped and in the long run save money. There are many alternatives to this process. Even though the wholesale substance abuse testing has not yet proven cost-effective, it is still possible to restructure policy so that for instance, only people who have shown signs or have been suspected to be on drugs are subjected to the screening.

Criticisms of random drug testing for people receiving state assistance

Critics of the random drug testing for those receiving state assistance argue that the initiative has been ineffective in reducing substance abuse in almost all the states where the program has been implemented. Their argument is supported by various studies that have been conducted in the past. For instance, a 1996 report from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism established that there was no significant variation in the rate of illegal substance abuse by non-applicant and welfare applicants. 70% of illegal drug users between the age of 18 and 50, on the other hand, were employees of full-time basis (Ferris et al. 181). According to this line of argument, even if the program is efficient, there are still concerns among the economists regarding the high cost associated with the program. The opponents of the program argue that the cost of running such programs can even exceed the savings to the budget.

According to a study conducted by Idaho's state government, on the likely financial effect of a substance abuse welfare testing established that the cost of running the programs would exceed the savings. The example that the critics often use is that of Florida where the state has been forced to use a considerable amount of funds to defend the policy in courts with the testing costing over $240 for 40 applicants, which translate to tens of thousands to test all the applicants. The ultimate argument held by the opponents of the substance abuse testing is that the process is unconstitutional and against human rights to welfare and employment. According to the critics, the Fourth Amendment places certain limits on the form of searches that a state can conduct where drug tests are regarded as a type of search. The opponents of the program argue that there should be no restrictions or condition for people to receive assistance from their government (DuPont et al. 840). The argument is that drug use is not a factor that can cause or result in an individual being denied crucial necessities such as housing and food. They also argue that children are the ones that stand to suffer under such policies. It is because it is never the fault of the children that their parents are on drugs. As such, they argue that denying the parent welfare is the same as denying children the right to crucial social services and necessities. Another issue that the critics highlight is the stigmatization of individuals on welfare. According to the opponents, requiring the testing reinforces the belief that the beneficiaries of the welfare are drug users or addicts.

Weighing the advantages and criticisms of random drug testing

Despite the strong argument put forward by the critics of random drug tests for people receiving state assistance, the advantages can never be underestimated or ignored. The fact that taxpayer money is used in providing the welfare means that it is crucial for the state authorities to ensure the prudent utilization of the money. Many taxpayers would not be happy with any wastage or the use of their hard-earned money to finance substance abuse. As such, before any form of welfare is offered, the recipient should subject himself or herself to random and mandatory drug test to ascertain that the resources offered are put into proper use. The program is also crucial in increasing the employability of those enrolled. It is important for employers to establish the health condition of their workforces and drug use is not an exception. It means that an employer can even establish a way of helping those who test positive be better and deal with their addiction if the information is available. As such, individuals would not be subjected to the risk of losing their jobs considering that the employers would be aware of what is affecting them and thus helping them out of the situation becomes easier.

Works Cited

Chambers Jr, Henry L. "Random Drug Testing." Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court of the United States, 4, 2008, pp. 172-181.

DuPont, Robert L., Merlo, Lisa J., Arria, Amelia M., and Corinne L. Shea. "Random student drug testing as a school‐based drug prevention strategy." Addiction, 108(5), 2013, pp. 839-845.

Ferris, Jason, Mazerolle, L., King, M., Bates, L., Bennett, S., and M. Devaney. "Random breath testing in Queensland and Western Australia: Examination of how the random breath testing rate influences alcohol related traffic crash rates." Accident Analysis & Prevention, 60, 2013, pp. 181-188.

Fitzsimons, Michael G., Baker, Keith H., Lowenstein, Edward, and Warren M. Zapol. "Random drug testing to reduce the incidence of addiction in anesthesia residents: preliminary results from one program." Anesthesia & Analgesia, 107(2), 2008, pp. 630-635.

Phan, Hieu M., Yoshizuka, Keith, Murry, Daryl J., and Paul J. Perry. "Drug testing in the workplace." Pharmacotherapy: The Journal of Human Pharmacology and Drug Therapy, 32(7), 2012, pp. 649-656.

Pidd, Ken, and Ann M. Roche. "How effective is drug testing as a workplace safety strategy? A systematic review of the evidence." Accident Analysis & Prevention, 71, 2014, pp. 154-165.

Tsanaclis, Lolita M., Wicks, John, and Alice AM Chasin. "Workplace drug testing, different matrices different objectives." Drug testing and analysis, 4(2), 2012, pp. 83-88.

August 21, 2023

Health Social Issues



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Drug Abuse Welfare

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