The myth of drug-testing welfare recipients


Contrary to the incorrect perceptions expressed in many of the emails and comments I received after a May 18 story about Logan County Children’s Services drug testing parents/guardians accused of drug abuse, such a policy is in no way tied to whether or not that family receives government assistance.

Children’s services intends to drug test clients whose alleged drug abuse may have created a dangerous or otherwise unsafe threat to children in the home, whether or not that family receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Family benefits, commonly referred to as welfare.

Statistically speaking, it is likely the majority of cases handled by LCCS deal with families receiving some form of government assistance, but the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand.

State legislators finalized a midterm budget review this week and submitted the legislation to Gov. John Kasich. The line-by-line budget analysis trims about $13.5 million from the state budget and members in the House of Representatives touted House Bill 487 as a way to further streamline government and make it more efficient.

Other provisions in the bill include reappropriations to cover costs associated with implementing regulations set forth in a recently-passed exotic animal bill as well as money for the Clean Ohio fund and a Lake Erie protection program.

Absent from the legislation was language relating to the aforementioned misconceptions concerning the LCCS drug testing policy that would have forced any party seeking government assistance to first pass a drug test.

Similarly, a plan to basically defund Planned Parenthood was also scuttled.

Republicans, presumably, abandoned the contentious provisions in the name of expediency to pass the budget bill.

They did, however, vow to revisit at least the welfare drug testing provision in a separate piece of legislation.

Currently, 28 states have adopted laws to that effect. Florida was among the first to do so, when Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation May 31, 2011.

For about four months, applicants for government assistance in the Sunshine State were forced to first submit to a drug test in order to receive welfare benefits, until Oct. 25 when a federal judge upheld a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union arguing the law violated the 4th Constitutional Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.

The case is pending further hearings in federal court.

Those four months, though, provided a good bit of data to demonstrate why such a law is a waste of time, energy and resources in the first place.

According to numbers released in April by the Florida Department of Children and Families, of the 4,086 people who submitted a welfare application and were subsequently tested, only 108 failed the test. It should also be noted that 40 more people scheduled a test only to later cancel or fail to show up. Maybe they knew they’d test positive, or maybe it was because their kids got sick or they accidentally double-booked a dentist appointment. Even if those 40 cases are included among those who failed the test, that still only means about 3 percent of applicants tested positive for drugs. Further, the majority of those positive tests were not for hard drugs like meth or heroin, but marijuana, a drug less addictive than many of the opiates prescribed in doctors’ offices every day. But, I digress.

Florida taxpayers spent $118,140 to reimburse people for the drug screens, at an average cost of $35 per person and the program resulted in a net loss of $45,780, a department spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Additionally, the law had no discernible impact on the number of welfare applications submitted to the office.

Proponents of this kind of legislation argue it’s necessary to safeguard taxpayers’ dollars from being used on illegal activities. They rightly argue that funds are limited and should be distributed diligently and only to those people who really need them.

I couldn’t agree more.

However, a four-month test run showed not only does this law have no real impact, but its implementation actually results in a net loss to the taxpayer.

And we haven’t yet even broached the topic of whether or not such an invasive practice is indeed constitutional.

Drug testing welfare recipients amounts to yet another increase in government and the power it has over citizens’ lives. And it’s but another crystal clear example of conservatives arguing for “limited government” and then advocating for its expansion when they deem necessary.

Oh, I’m well-acquainted with the argument for the law’s constitutionality.

These people are not directly entitled to welfare benefits and if the government is going to provide that measure of assistance, it’s not unreasonable to attach certain strings.

A 62-year-old woman was reportedly sexually assaulted Thursday in a public park in Spokane, Wash., a newspaper there reported.

Seems to me, the state government there should run background checks and drug test any person that wishes to enter a public park, because Washington taxpayers deserve to know their tax dollars aren’t being used to provide a space for rapists to prey on vulnerable women.

A somewhat less extreme example: Perhaps state governments should drug test every single person that gets behind the wheel of a car and intends to traverse the publicly-funded highway system to ensure optimal safety on our taxpayer-funded roadways.

Returning to this drug testing welfare recipients nonsense, I’m familiar still with other positions that argue the policy is less about the money and more about making certain children are benefiting from those welfare dollars.

If that’s the case, then stipulations on those benefits should be further restricted to prevent food stamps to be used on anything considered to be “unhealthy” for children.

Maybe Republicans could appoint an independent counsel that spells out what’s considered “healthy” food for children, and what is unhealthy and therefore unnecessary and therefore shouldn’t be paid for by taxpayer dollars.

I’d argue the majority of severely drug-addicted people aren’t using government assistance to pay for their habit; they’re stealing metal for scrap and breaking into people’s houses and they probably don’t have custody of their children to begin with and certainly couldn’t be bothered to file for public assistance.

Do you really think a heroin addict has the patience to operate the kiosk at the local job and family services office?

There is one way I could get on board with drug testing people on public assistance, and that’s if for every welfare recipient tested, one state legislator is also chosen at random and subjected to the same drug test.

After all, our tax dollars pay for their salaries, healthcare and those comfortable leather chairs and cherry oak desks from where these kinds of crackpot ideas are first conceived.

Nate Smith is an Examiner Staff Writer who believes budget deficits are not born from subsidizing one’s drug habit through government assistance. He can be reached at