Drug testing for welfare recipients: Update

implementing it in May only for others to be calling for the law to be repealed a couple of months later. In what has surely been one of the most controversial years for the welfare system, where do we stand now as we head towards 2012? Currently, 36 states have implemented welfare drug testing – a huge leap since Michigan proposed the idea only 10 years ago. “You have to fight the scourge (of drug abuse) somehow,” said state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, the House sponsor of Tennessee’s drug testing bill. “If people are getting taxpayer money, the taxpayers have a right to know who that money is going to.” Critics see these drug testing bills as an unfair slight on a struggling population. Note that when Florida instituted mandatory drug tests this year, all but 0.4% of new welfare applicants and 2% of current welfare recipients tested clean. While this may have saved the state a little money in the grand scheme of things, it certainly undermined Scott’s claim that a significant number of welfare recipients were drug users. In Tennessee, the fiscal note attached to Dunn’s bill estimates that it would cost $2.3 million a year to test a quarter of the adults receiving aid this year, then $3.8 million to test another 25 percent the following year, and $2.4 million to continue testing part of the welfare population every year thereafter. “We want to punish drug users, not taxpayers,” Dunn said. The trouble is, the worse the economy gets, the more people need social services. But the worse the economy gets, the less money is available to them. What for 2012? With federal and state budgets getting ever tighter, there is increasing pressure to conclude as to whether drug testing of welfare recipients is a cost-effective measure. Ultimately, does it save the taxpayer money? In theory, it should. And in practice it is hard to imagine these bills failing. Taxpayers should not be passing over their hard earned cash to individuals who are using it for drugs. Whether or not supporters of the bills can achieve this before the critics have built a strong enough case for repeal, time will only tell.  ]]>

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