The allocation of tax dollars is an ever-present debate among Americans, both in and out of legislative positions; one priority in particular is the issue of welfare. In the modern political narrative, there is a perception that 'welfare queens,' those who have the ability or capacity to work but simply accept welfare instead, are a drain on the system. In order to curb this abuse of welfare, the proposition has been made in various state and federal legislatures to implement drug testing policies for welfare recipients. The argument is that this screening would weed out drug users who might theoretically abuse welfare money to further their drug habit. Despite the emotionally appealing nature of this proposal, there are far too many problems for it to be effective, and the attitudes behind it are actively harmful to welfare recipients in the first place.
The arguments for drug testing are interesting, and worthy of discussion; there are many common-sense appeals for doing this initiative. For one, drug testing welfare recipients would help to prevent welfare money being given to those who might not use it for essentials, but instead just for drugs (Newell 215). Secondly, it might inspire drug addicts to get clean in order to qualify for needed welfare, thus improving their lives in general (Sulzberger 2011). This measure is meant to provide accountability to welfare recipients, so as to create further transparency and effectiveness in allocation of tax dollars (Newell 217). The War on Drugs has made it particularly pressing that tax dollars not be used in any way to fund the use of illegal drugs (Guthrie 580).
Despite the emotional appeals for drug testing, none of these preconceptions are remotely accurate (or even helpful) to those who are on welfare. Even in the event that there is a large number of welfare recipients who do abuse drugs, there is no guarantee that drug testing is a successful deterrent for drug users - there is always the possibility of their using drugs during the periods surrounding testing. It also offers absolutely no help for those who are drug addicts in the way of counseling or programs; to that end, it seems a purely punitive measure that does little to actually provide assistance to theoretical drug using welfare recipients in need (Sulzberger, 2011). Furthermore, by creating these stigmas around being on welfare, it can create further economic ripples by preventing those who need welfare, but do not want to be saddled with the shame associated with receiving welfare, from getting the help that they need. This is a harmful and toxic association that must be prevented (Alvarez, 2012).
Many arguments state that the concept of drug testing is unconstitutional. The practice is considered to be an intrusion into the private lives of citizens, something that is not in line with the values that this country was founded upon. In particular, many cite the drug testing program as being against the Fourth Amendment right of citizens against unreasonable search and seizure (Guthrie 580). This kind of "suspicionless drug testing" is viewed with skepticism, and these kinds of searches and seizures cannot be undertaken because of fiscal concerns (the threat of defrauding the government for welfare money) (Newell 245-246).
The most important point to make regarding drug testing for welfare recipients is that it has already been attempted - and it does not work. One vital example to cite in this debate is Florida, in which a drug testing pilot program was implemented to screen welfare recipients for drug use. The program cost a great deal of money ($118,140) and demonstrated that only 2.6% of welfare recipients even tested positive for drugs (Alvarez, 2012). As a result, the program was a massive waste of money, used to track down a subset of the population tested that barely existed in the first place. Furthermore, in Florida these welfare recipients have had to pay for their own drug tests, leaving enrollment shrinking to incredibly low levels - this creates an insulting and unreasonable paywall to overcome for those who do not have the money to spare (Sulzberger, 2011).
If these mythic 'drug abusing welfare queens' do not exist, why then is there such a fervor to test welfare recipients for drugs in the first place? The answer to this question is partly cultural; there is a pervading wisdom in American, particularly among those who have not had much exposure to lower-class Americans, that welfare recipients have something wrong with them. Many attribute being poor to a number of factors, mostly dealing with a failure for that person to take advantage of opportunities, get the right schooling, not being intelligent or ambitious enough, etc. This does a grave disservice to those who desperately need welfare, regardless of socioeconomic status - many are new to welfare given the recent recession, but are given this additional indignity that deters them from receiving assistance (Sulzberger, 2011).
All of these factors lead to the conclusion that their lower-class status is a failure on their part, and therefore must be punished. There is a cultural image in particular of the drug-addicted minority, living in the inner city, leeching off the government dime and contributing nothing to society; this is what many have in mind when they use the term 'welfare queen' (Sulzberger, 2011). To that end, drug testing welfare recipients seems like a good idea to those who are unaware how inaccurate it is, because these cultural images have been provided to them by media and their surrounding culture. With these sociocultural factors in mind, it is reasonable to see that granting legislation based on inaccurate and negative cultural stereotypes would be a mistake.
Because of the ineffectiveness of the drug testing program, and the apparent lack of need for it, its use cannot be recommended in any reasonable way. Presuming the common goal is to create a welfare system that is effective and transparent, drug testing has still been shown to be a misguided idea. Pilot programs have already been shown to provide a negligible effect on catching drug addicts signing up for a welfare program, and the program becomes more of a waste of tax dollars than potential welfare fraud would be. In addition to this, the program perpetuates a false impression of welfare recipients as being drug abusers, layabouts, slackers and overall undesirable people. This kind of social stigma is much more harmful to the progress and potential uplifting of low-income Americans than the practically nonexistent threat of drug abuse; to that end, drug testing of welfare recipients should not be implemented.
Alvarez, Lizette. "No Savings Are Found From Welfare Drug Tests." The New York Times April 17, 2012. Print.
Clark, Irene L. The Genre of Argument. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1998. Print. Guthrie, Phillipa M. "Drug Testing and Welfare: Taking the Drug War to Unconstitutional Limits?" Indiana Law Journal 66.2, p. 579, 1991. Print.
Newell, Walker. "Tax Dollars Earmarked for Drugs? The Policy and Constitutionality Drug Testing Welfare Recipients". Columbia Human Rights Law Review 43, p. 215. 2011. Print.
Sulzberger, A.G. "States Adding Drug Test as Hurdle for Welfare." New York Times Oct. 10, 2011. Print.
Ward, Russ. Logical Argument in the Research Paper. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace, 1997. Print.