In December, Monica predicted that newly controlled Republican legislatures would slash anti-poverty programs. According to a new report from CLASP, several states are looking at a particularly inefficient, costly, and likely unconstitutional way of doing this: drug testing of recipients of government aid.
At least 12 states have proposed bills mandating that people in a range of government assistance programs, including TANF, food stamps, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance, submit to drug testing as a condition of receiving aid. The idea is that the state will save money because so many people will test positive and lose their assistance. However, since it takes a large number of tests to get one positive result, estimates put the cost of catching a drug abuser between $20,000 to $77,000 each, which is probably a lot more than most people would be receiving in assistance. Florida's new governor Rick Scott wants to go ahead with a program to test all of the states 3.1 million welfare recipients, which could cost close to $9 million simply to implement.
This is on top of the expense of defending the program in court; Michigan, the only state to have imposed drug testing of TANF recipients in the past, had the law struck down in 2003 as a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. There's no Constitutional reason to suspect welfare recipients since studies show they test positive for drugs at about the same, low rate as the rest of the adult population.
It makes you wonder why, if they want to spend less on government assistance, they don't just cut the budgets for those programs (and they haven't ruled that out, either). It's because doing it this way proves that they were right all along: people on welfare use our tax dollars to buy drugs and government aid is bad for the poor. It fits nicely into the narrative that poverty comes from character flaws, rather than systemic problems. As the sponsor of a bill in Kentucky to test cash assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid recipients explained: "It's widely known…that they'll take the food stamp card and buy good groceries with it, and then swap them for illegal drugs."