Virtually every day that I am on Facebook, I see memes calling for drug testing for welfare recipients. It’s something that conservatives have called for often. The principle behind their theory is that states would save money if they could prevent failed drug testers from receiving welfare. It’s an issue that gets people very fired up, especially conservatives who often see welfare recipients as free-loaders. But if the point is to save money, then it should be very easy to determine if drug testing welfare recipients pencils out by simply looking at the math.
Think Progress recently released an analysis of states that drug test welfare recipients, how much the states spent, and how many people failed the drug test. Below are excerpts that show the results:
While the legislature has kept the rule each year since its 2010 implementation, very few people have actually even been referred for drug testing after completing a written drug use statement. Since 2014, more than 140,000 Arizona TANF recipients have been screened by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Just 42 have been referred for a drug test over that time — of the 19 who completed the test, only three have ever tested positive.
A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Children and Families told ThinkProgress, “The first three months of implementation yielded very few drug tests, as staff became comfortable with the criteria. Referrals have increased since that time. So far, 65 individuals have been referred for suspicion-based drug testing. 11 tested positive [and] 12 failed to appear for their scheduled test appointment.”
Over the first five months, 3,656 TANF applicants were screened for use of illegal substances and 38 were referred for drug testing. Just two tested positive.
In 2011, Missouri adopted a law to require screening and testing for all TANF applicants, and the testing began in March 2013. In 2014, 446 of the state’s 38,970 applicants were tested. Just 48 tested positive.
From November 2012 through November 2014, 3,342 applicants were screened and 2,992 selected for further testing (though those numbers could include some who applied more than once). Two-hundred and ninety-seven tested positive for illegal substances.
The program went into effect in July 2014 and, between that time and the end of the year, 16,017 applied for Families First, Tennessee’s TANF program. Of those, 279 were given drug tests and 37 failed them.
Between its implementation in August 2012 and July of 2014, 9,552 applicants were screened and 838 were given drug tests. Just 29 tested positive at a cost of more than $64,000, according to a Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman.
Anyone who tells you that there is an epidemic of welfare recipients doing drugs is wrong. The national drug use rate is 9.4%. When you look at these numbers, and calculate the ratios, welfare recipients have a drug use rate of 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, with most of the states falling closer to the lower number. If the purpose of these programs is to save money, they have failed, and in some states’ cases, they have failed miserably. Imagine if the money that went to drug testing went towards finding these families jobs? I guess there’s no way to know until states do that, but the states listed above seem to be sticking with their programs because they are politically popular with conservatives, and not because the math pencils out.