Should Welfare Recipients be Drug Tested before Receiving Benefits?

Published: 2021-07-16
1837 words
7 pages
16 min to read
Harvey Mudd College
Type of paper: 
Research paper
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The US government assists its citizens financially in many ways. One of the means is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Many states in the United States have passed laws, which require welfare recipients to be drug tested before receiving benefits. As the National Conference of State Legislatures (p.1) indicates, as of May 2016, 15 states had passed legislation concerning drug testing. As the site states, some states passed the law to apply to all applicants, specific language, and a likelihood of substance abuse or illegal drug activity. Earlier in the year, states in the US spent close to $1 million on testing applicants, but very few people tested positive for drugs (Covert & Israel, p.1). Despite the number of drug users, these laws have stirred debates from different sides who argue on both constitutional and practical grounds. For example, proponents argue that the procedure identifies people who have substance abuse problems. Additionally, they argue that the process ensures that the applicants use that money for basic needs and other necessities rather than abuse drugs. On the other hand, opponents of the law contend that it stigmatizes welfare beneficiaries in a way that it makes them appear addicts and drug users. More so, they argue that it is a violation of the Constitution due to the unreasonable searches. In 2013, the District Court in Florida issued a judgment that stopped the enforcement of the law because it violated the constitutions protection of unreasonable searches (National Conference of State Legislatures, p.1). On a broader perspective, the question of whether or not to test welfare recipients brings about the element of logic and fairness as both sides battle for legal authority. Welfare recipients should not be drug tested before receiving benefits because it is illogical and stigmatizes individuals of welfare.

Welfare recipients are not the only beneficiaries of government assistance. The logic, which lies beneath such laws, could support drug testing on anyone. Chodorow (p.1) affirms that most Americans receive a myriad of subsidies in the form of mortgage deductions, tax breaks, and health insurance from the state. The government should test all recipients who receive benefits. Proponents of the law argue that the government tests welfare recipients because they do not want their money to go to individuals who abuse drugs. In its view, it provides money to the poor to cater for their daily necessities such as food and shelter. Farmers, for instance, receive subsidies from the government. When the government allocates that money, there is no sure way of finding out whether all that money was used to buy drugs or buy seedlings for their produce. The same can be said for mortgage deductions. As Chodorow (p.1) asserts, the government spends close to $70 billion annually on people with mortgage deductions. There may be likelihood that those people use that money to buy drugs and not homes. In the authors viewpoint, the government wastes a lot of money because people would still buy houses regardless of the deductions. It is fair to drug test everyone who receives any kind of money from the government. Presumably, the government believes that money allocated to help its citizens is purely used on basic needs and schooling. What if some recipients buy drugs using that money? Apparently, the logic behind such restrictions goes far beyond the poor. As the author suggests, the government should test everyone who gets both direct and indirect subsidies. Every citizen who receives government benefits should be singled out for drug tests.

Testing the welfare applicants result in stigmatization. The Editorial Board (p.1) notes that Republican lawmakers are demonizing welfare recipients. As the post indicates, singling out welfare recipients to undergo a mandatory drug test demonizes them and vilifies public aid. As it appears, some rich people have the belief that poor people do not need to be happy. The government should treat every individual equal regardless of their financial situation. Some of the needy people apply for the program because they do not have any other means to fend for their family. It would be humiliating and distressful when they are denied the funds. Moreover, it is unreasonable to believe that majority of welfare applicants are drug users. According to a research on substance abuse trends among welfare recipients, only 20% of them used illicit drugs (Pollack, p.1). Findings from the study indicate that only a small minority satisfies the criteria for drug and alcohol dependence. Notably, 20% is a small percentage compared to the other 80% who abuse drugs and apply for other government assistance programs without being screened for drugs. The government has to be reasonable when singling out welfare beneficiaries for the drug test. If anything, the state has to screen every citizen who applies for government funds. From an ethical perspective, when the government forces them to take the test during the application process, the applicants feel degraded. In fact, denying welfare applicants access to the funds is like telling the whole world that the needy people are the most drug addicts. It makes the recipients feel more ashamed of their selves. As well, it might prevent people who need real help from seeking financial help to provide for their family.

Drug testing denies welfare benefits to children. When some of the adult applicants are denied funds, their families will suffer. Specifically, children would be the ones who would suffer from the governments restrictions. It is unfair for them to endure pain because their parents are drug users. More so, some children are always around their parents when they use substances such as marijuana. When they apply for these welfare benefits, drugs might appear in their system. Even so, Richey (p.1) affirms that 81.5% of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are children from Oklahoma. As the author explains, about 17,000 children receive food, shelter, and clothing through the program. As well, she asserts that in Oklahoma, the Bill requires applicants to pay for their drug tests. Evidently, if the government continues to reinforce mandatory drug tests, children will suffer the most from hunger. More so, the author reveals that the drug restrictions may deter many children from applying for the government benefits. Logically, it would be unfair for the government to penalize the children, who sometimes might indulge in drugs due to peer influence.

Testing welfare beneficiaries is a violation of the constitution. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit preliminary found in Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families that drug testing welfare recipients is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment (Vereen, p.1). The same situation occurred in Florida when a District Court ruled that drug testing welfare recipients is unconstitutional. Gatlin (p.1) affirms that the restriction of drug testing in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia raised questions whether the drug test violated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects its citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. It states that the search must be valid, and voluntary consent may be given to the search. One of the goals of government assistance programs is to ensure that citizens use their money for legal purposes. Apparently, the government violates an individuals right to ensure recipients utilize their money appropriately. However, testing the welfare beneficiaries without their voluntary consent is unconstitutional. Under the Fourth Amendment, urine drug tests are considered searches (Gatlin, p.1). As the author explains, reasonable searches have to be conducted with individualized suspicion. Consequently, when states decide to test all welfare beneficiaries for drugs, it is considered as a suspicionless search. The recipients decision to present himself or herself for government assistance is not a voluntary consent to undergo drug testing. Even so, Bolen (p.80) affirms that requiring drug tests to access public benefits is unreasonable because it promotes the unfair connotation that welfare recipients use illicit drugs. Evidently, without a standard basis for probable cause, testing welfare recipients for drugs poses a constitutional challenge and raises more questions regarding the governments intention for providing the assistance.

Testing recipients for drugs is a poor use of taxpayer money. Dr Alex Wodak from the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation states that drug testing is expensive as the amount spent per positive case is extremely high (Butler, p.1). Israel & Covert (p.1) assert that during the October 2015 and December 2016 applications in Alabama, three applicants were screened and none of them tested positive for drugs. They explain that the cost of the screening was $50 per individual. Additionally, they states that in 2016, Arkansas spent $30, 243 on drug tests where six people tested and two turned up positive. Moreover, the authors articulate that in 2016, Kansas spent $94,480.25 on drug tests where two hundred and eighty seven tested and only seventy-seven yielded positive results. As well, as the authors note, Maine spent $372 dollars on drug tests where no applicant tested positive for drugs. More so, in 2016, Mississippi spent $31,776 where sixteen people out of two hundred and twenty-two tested positive for drugs. Additionally, Missouri spent $336,297 whereby twenty-three out of one hundred and eighty-seven applicants tested positive for drugs. More to the point, North Carolina spent $11,990 where forty-two people out of two hundred and eighteen tested positive. As well, Oklahoma spent $668,818.48 to test one thousand one hundred and seventy-two and only one hundred and one tested positive. Additionally, in 2016 in the state of Tennessee, one hundred and ninety-eight applicants were given a drug test, nineteen tested positive, and one hundred and sixty-three did not take the test. As authors explain, the cost for the test was $8,768.50. In Utah, four hundred and eighty-five people took a drug test and only eighty of them tested positive. According to the authors, the estimated cost of the test in the state was $129,675. More so, in Wisconsin, forty-two applicants tested for the drugs and nine tested positive. The authors affirm that the tests cost the government about $1050 $4200. Accumulatively, the amount spent to conduct these tests is considerably high. As seen, some states end up conducting tests, yet no individual tsts positive for drugs. The government could be using that money to help other citizens who are need of government assistance.

In summary, welfare recipients should not be drug tested before receiving benefits because it is illogical and stigmatizes individuals of welfare. Benefit programs are beneficial because they help those who are still struggling to make it in life. Instead of denying these funds to welfare applicants, the government could find a way to track how the recipients spend their money. Introducing drug tests to these individuals without probable cause is humiliating. From a personal perspective, drug-testing recipients are a mere waste of taxpayer money. As it is widely known, drug tests are expensive. The cost of conducting the tests outweighs the savings obtained by testing. Additionally, the only thing gained from testing welfare recipients is the humiliation of desperate citizens. More to the point, drug testing the people who need government assistance is bad policing. These individuals need money to take care of their everyday needs. When the states conduct the tests, they believe that that they are solving a problem, which...

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