Why drug testing of welfare recipients is a bad idea

On July 1st, Florida became the first state to begin mandatory drug-testing of welfare recipients. While at first glance this may seem to be a great idea, really it is an appeal to emotional rhetoric and typical knee-jerk reaction by the public which sells this bill. Under closer scrutiny, the public would see that this is a terrible idea, more bureaucracy, more government control, with no net gain for the public at large or the taxpayer. So let us look at the reasons, point by point, why drug testing of welfare recipients is actually a very bad idea.

Cost effectiveness

It's not. Plain and simple. The biggest reason that people are supporting this new law is that they believe there will be a major savings to the taxpayer by kicking a bunch of people off of welfare. Even if there were a savings, the voter must make an erroneous assumption that any such savings would grant them any tax relief in the first place or that the money would then be spent on “people who really need it.” But more to the point, this program will be enormously expensive and yet another huge burden on the taxpayers. A Congressional committee found that drug-testing government employees would cost $77,000 for each positive drug test, in 1992 dollars. Is it really worth spending somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred-grand, just to catch one drug user who may be getting twelve-grand a year in benefits?

According to some sources, drug tests may run as high as $75 per test. The average is expected to land around $42 per test. With 100,000 people on the welfare rolls in Florida, you are looking at a cost of $4.2 million to test everyone once a year for the 420. An expense that the very poorest people of the state will be expected to pay up-front, and then be reimbursed later if they pass the drug test. Of course, the cost of the tests are only the tip of the iceberg too, as all of this information will now have to be digested by the welfare bureaucracy. It would probably be conservative to estimate that the true cost might be three times the cost of the actual test itself, when you consider all the different social workers who will have to check and double check the paperwork, meet with recipients, speak with clinics, etcetera. A red-tape nightmare with a very hefty price tag. And for what? Arizona has also considered such a law. They projected they would save a measly $1.7 million by kicking people off of welfare. That is a net loss of $2.5 million to the taxpayer by comparison. And that is of course, if each person were only tested once per year.

Cronyism, Politics for Profit

That net loss by the taxpayer is a gross gain for the drug testing companies. As it turns out, Florida's governor Rick Scott co-founded and owns 70% of Solantic, the company that will be doing the drug-testing on welfare recipients.


There is substantial risk that people will test positive for drugs even if they did not take any drugs. A “blank” false-positive, or one that would have come up positive regardless of what the specimen actually contained runs about 5-6%, even if it were distilled water. When you add to that the fact that things like poppy-seed buns, or Mountain Dew can trigger a false-positive, the rate increases to about 15%. Not to mention people who are taking prescription medications. Some sources indicate false-positive rates can run as high as 1 in 2. So there we will see 15-50,000 innocent people kicked off of welfare for using drugs, when in fact they were not drug users at all. A first offense will mean that the applicant can no re-apply for one year. A subsequent failure would bar the applicant from re-applying for another three years.

Will a second test be granted, and at who's expense, to re-test to insure that a false positive was not returned? Double-testing would of course double the cost to $8.4 million. But even granting a second test in an attempt to offset false-positives does not guarantee that innocent people will not by kicked off of welfare, leaving them and their kids to starve in the streets.

You can check out a huge list of substances that will return a false postitive at the link below this quote from AskDocWeb...

What is a false positive? It is a test result that is returned when a substance tests positive for another compound. It is a case of mistaken identity. For example if you eat a couple poppy seed cakes before testing, you can get a positive result for opiates.

The chances of you getting a false positive depends on the quality of the laboratory that does the testing. There seems to be about 1,200 of these labs in the United States currently testing for drugs. Less than a 100 of these meet federal standards and most of the individual states do not regulate drug test labs. The number of false positives returned range from 4% to over 50%, depending on the lab.

A concern here is that, if your company tests for drug usage, they are probably not required to use a certified drug testing lab, which means you have a greater chance of getting a false positive.

Ineffectiveness of drug testing, and substance bias

The truth is, drug-testing is actually a very ineffective way of uncovering substance abuse and addiction, especially when done randomly or sporadically. To even hope to be effective, recipients would have to be tested once a month or more. For a whopping total of $50.4 million a year cost to the taxpayer for the tests alone, and now triple that to guess what it will actually cost to process those results through the bureaucracy of Social Services.

Alcohol abuse is probably the most prevalent substance abuse problem in our society today, but welfare cannot test for that for two reasons. Firstly, because alcohol is not illegal and secondly, because it processes out of the system so quickly, unlike marijuana which can stay in the system for up to 30 days. Even the casual user can have lingering traces in the system for 10-13 days. Which makes pot smokers the real target of this witch-hunt among welfare recipients. Not drunks, and not even crack-heads or heroin junkies or meth freaks, since those substances only take a matter of hours to filter out of the system. So Florida is going to spend all of this money to catch pot-heads, while likely turning addicts toward harder, more dangerous drugs which are not so easily detected.

Even with just the pot-heads though, how effective will the testing be? Pot smokers have been getting around drug tests for years, with various methods, including elixirs that can be purchased at you local head-shop or online. I'm sure there are similar tricks available for any drug user. More complex tests will only cost even more money. So clearly, many people who are on welfare and doing drugs will never be detected despite the many many millions that will be spent searching for them.

Stigmatizing the poor

There is a false notion in our society today that people on welfare are there as a matter of choice. While there are certainly examples of people who lie and abuse the system, those instances are much more rare than we are led to believe. Again we can take drug abuse as an example. The popular notion is that most people who are poor and on welfare are drug addicts who simply don't want to work. The facts do not support this notion however. Before Michigan's drug testing of welfare recipients was struck down as un-Constitutional, they found that only 3% of recipients were using hard drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine. That rate is about in line with the general population showing clearly that there is no rampant drug abuse among the poor and disenfranchised. Indeed, another study found that 70% of all drug users in the U.S. were between 18-49 and employed full-time.

Now some might say that if they are employed they have the “right” to do drugs. But by that logic, one must assume that their drug use will not affect their job and finances to the point that they might wind up on welfare in the end thanks to their drug abuse. Which then of course brings up the entire moral basis of even having welfare in the first place.

(Here is an excellent short film about the realities of poverty. It is a little dated in the statistics, but you will get the gist of it anyway I'm sure... )



We as a society have seen fit to put money aside to help our fellow countrymen in their time of need. “Blame” is something that can be thrown around all the livelong day, but at the end of the day we still see a person in dire need of assistance for the basic necessities of life, regardless of the reasons why or how they got there, which more often than not is the result of our nation's terminally flawed economic policy, rather than personal choices. Does that need simply disappear because someone is battling with addiction? Or was their drug addiction necessarily the cause of their economic straits in the first place? Certainly not. As we just noted above, the stigma attached to the poor in regards to drug use is false.

Regardless, it is probably the addict who is most in need of assistance, as much as anyone else suffering from some debilitating disease. Should we kick a homeless vet off of welfare because he chose to join the Army and go to Afghanistan where his legs got blown off? Absolutely not. So we see that choices, mistakes, or anything of the sort is actually irrelevant to the moral question of whether or not a drug user should be given welfare benefits. We do in fact, have a moral obligation to help even the most wretched creatures among us, and the most destitute, regardless of how they got there or what their condition is today.

Forcing the hand is illogical

Simply put, you cannot force people to be, or to do what you believe they should be doing or who you think they should be. All too easy to judge someone else without having walked a mile in their moccasins. There is a long list of medical associations who oppose mandatory drug testing and treatment for any number of reasons.

American Public Health Association, National Association of Social
Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National
Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and
Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association
on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant
Women, National Black Women’s Health Project, Legal Action Center,
National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center,
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.


But perhaps the most glaringly obvious reason is that the addict must want to get better. Forcing someone into the streets, starving them, forcing them into a rehab program that they have no interest in is counterproductive and only compounds the addicts justification for their addiction. It will not make them better, it will not help them to become a productive member of society, it will not address the reasons why the addict turned to substance abuse in the first place.

Instead, the end result of forcing the hand will be an increase in criminality as these addicts will only become more desperate than ever. So we can pay to give addicts the basic necessities of life while they try to find their way to their own destiny and hopefully a moment of clarity where they might recover and once again be productive members of society. Or, we can pay to house and feed them in prisons after they have robbed or killed you or someone you love. Keep in mind too, that the U.S. already has the largest prison population in the world, housing a full 25% of the total global prison population.


Now we come to the very bedrock of what it means to be an American citizen, with the promise of liberty as prescribed by the Founding Fathers in our beloved Constitution. In 2003 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in the case of Marchwinski v. Howard ruled that the state of Michigan's policy for mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients violated our Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

Some have argued that if we can be drug-tested at work, then the government has the right to drug-test welfare recipients. Again though, this is an illogical apples and oranges comparison. Aside from my own personal opinion that even employers should not be able to test workers without cause, a private company or employer is not the government. You have a choice to go work somewhere else. You have the choice to boycott the company that drug tests their employees. Granting the government this power over all the people of this country is a very dangerous precedent.

It is important to keep in mind here, that this isn't just about welfare recipients. This is about the balance of power between government intrusion into our own personal lives and liberty. This is about your rights, not just the rights of some pot-head buying Doritos with food stamps. You never know when you might be in need of welfare or some other public assistance of some kind. Indeed, this sentiment is echoed by U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts when she ruled ruled that the state's rationale for testing welfare recipients...
“...could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that State.”
The ACLU adds...
Indeed, any of the justifications put forth to subject welfare recipients to random drug testing would also by logical extension apply to the entirety of our population that receives some public benefit and/or that is a parent. It is clear that our constitution – and common sense – would object to the random drug testing of this large group of people, making the drug testing of an equally absurd category of people – welfare recipients – unconstitutional as well.
We can even take it a step further and see that the government might use such a precedent to shove us down a slippery slope where you would have to pay for and submit to a drug test for any transaction at the DMV, or any time you are arrested, ticketed, even questioned by police. And then how long before it gets to the point where the government begins drawing blood from whoever they please, and profiling your DNA? How long then before you are forced to be implanted with a government chip that tracks your every movement and every word you say?

Sound far-fetched? If you had told me ten years ago that the government would be molesting children at airports under the guise of looking for bombs I would have told you that you were insane. And I am the police-state conspiracy nut. You can bet that if this is allowed to stand in Florida, the government will use that precedent to get into your life in ways you never imagined.

In conclusion, it is my humble opinion that rather than finding new and clever ways to fuck over the poor, they need to start finding ways to do more to help the poor. Namely, creating more jobs and better paying jobs. The government needs to take responsibility for their failures, rather than spending even more tax dollars to try to sweep the problems under the carpet. There is no reason why in the richest, most powerful country in the world anyone should want for the most very basic necessities of life, no matter who they are.

“There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
-James Madison

"To say that any people are not fit for freedom, is to make poverty their choice, and to say they had rather be loaded with taxes than not." ~Thomas Paine

"What good fortune for governments that the people do not think." -Adolf Hitler

For further consideration:

Drug Testing, Give Me One Good Reason

Economic Bill of Rights

Unemployed forced to clean subways

Prison labor re-education camps for welfare recipients

Join the new Facebook page at this LINK.


The numbers are in. 2% of Floridians applying for emergency assistance tested positive for drugs. Another 2% refused to take the test. So how does that pan out in dollars? What is the taxpayer "saving" with this program?

Net savings to the state -- $3,400 to $8,200 annually on one month's worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800-$98,400 for the cash assistance program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year...

...The as-yet uncalculated cost of staff hours and other resources that DCF has had to spend on implementing the program may wipe out most or all of the apparent savings.

Full article at: Tampa Bay Online

"First they came..."

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
after all I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
after all I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
after all I was not a trade unionist.

When they locked up the uncurables,
I did not speak out;
after all I was not sick.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

-Attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.


John said...

Big corporate control also has there hand in this. They will be the ones befitting from mandatory drug test not the tax payer. This should not happen.


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Anonymous said...

This is just a bad idea on so many levels. But average Joe Sixpack has his head so far up the government's ass, he thinks that this will lower his taxes or something.

Anonymous said...

Why does everyone think it's about lowering the taxes? Why is it not about cleaning up a systematic failure that is called "welfare."

I suppose it could be possible I'm the only person on planet earth who has seen a gross abusing of that system, nobody else has ever made the comment, "why are they getting free money for sitting around (smoking this or drinking that)." Certainly, nobody else has those feelings...not anyone outside of Joe Sixpack of course.

The trick about your bias towards everyday working class, which I'll go out on a limb and say is a strong liberal (read hippy, that's what I want you to read there) is just that...a biased opinion. You see money as the end solution here because some randomly biased author to the article saw money, you'll tell a friend money, he tells a friend money, etc.

Open the eyes, stop being narrow minded. They teach you these things in high school debate.

Kudos to my state, thank you for helping to clean up one of the most (if not the most) abused system in government.

Station Six Underground said...

Anonymous 2:36 - Your entire post reeks of the same tired rhetoric that got this stupid law passed in the first place, but lacks any real substance. You failed to refute one single point raised in the article. Most abused system in the government, are you kidding me?


Anonymous said...

Hey six,

Do you have any article stating that Solantic is going to be doing the testing?
I personally think it smells fishy, but Solantic's CEO has sworn that they won't bid on the contracts, which is what people are using when they're saying that it isn't croneyism.
Just wondering if there's proof that they will in some way be profiting from this.

Station Six Underground said...

Here's one...


He just made a new order too calling for testing of state employees, over 100,000 tests per year.

Station Six Underground said...

There's also an inline link in my article there that takes you to another article about Solantic from back in March.

common sense 561 said...

I would rather give $20 to some one who will use that money for food rather than one penny to some one who will use it on drugs..... The bill was passed not to save money but to allow the proper allotment of money

Station Six Underground said...

If it's not to save money, then frankly its none of your business. How can you guarantee that $20 won't go to drugs? You can't. Which is precisely why you walk right on past the panhandlers and make up excuses for why you are better than them.

Station Six Underground said...

Sprry, didnt mean to sound testy, but just the same, look through the tones to the actual points. There is always an excuse to screw the poor, rather then hold accountable the people that will leave you begging for change at the gas station one day all too soon.

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mike said...

ok Lets get this straight you think that it will cost more and have no effect on the welfare rolls. I will disagree and here is why. Think how many will not apply because of the law and the ones that will be denied. This will lower the amount of people in the programs and certainly save money. As for the cost of testing and false reading. If this were really a problem then no one would have jobs as every company out there now drug tests to be hired. So based on your logic we should worry about our jobs as I might eat a muffin and come up positive (very unlikely if you truly know about drug testing) It seem to me the only people worried about this are people on welfare. Welfare is supposed to be temporary, not a lifestyle so if its a problem then you should get a job (oh wait you have to pass a drug test for that) Is it not prudent to ensure the people on welfare are employable? Forcing the issue is the right path. as you stated you can't force an addict to quit However, you can make a difference if you know there is a problem. How is it better to ignore and hope they figure it out? that is not helping anyone. And if someone doesn't want help then why should hard working people have to support them. Life is hard and you have to work at it THERE IS NO FREE RIDE. as for them becoming criminals I would argue that they already are and will probably end up in jail anyway without help. Oh and there certainly are test for drugs other than marijuana and If an addict can clean up for a day or two to pass the test then they really aren't a junkie are they.To argue the government could use the law to test other groups is ignorant. First of all social security and Medicaid ARE NOT WELFARE\ENTITLEMENTS the programs are paid into by working people and all moneys held belong to them not the government.. Welfare is given to people who are not making it for whatever the reason and need help so as such you should have to qualify\meet requirements like everyone else. This is not a rights\freedoms issue it is a social issue and therefore the constitution should have nothing to do with it. People need to wise up and take personal responsibility.

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