For many years the working class has implored the government to make welfare recipients subject to drug tests. Often thought as abusers of the system, welfare recipients have resisted this idea, insisted that they are not criminals. They are simply people who are down on their luck. However, with the Census Bureau reporting that more people were on welfare than were working full time in the fourth quarter of 2011, it was time for something to be done . States began to pass legislation enforcing that all welfare recipients would be subject to random drug screenings, as well as an initial drug screening in order to receive welfare, as well as continue receiving welfare. Many say it’s unconstitutional and demonizes recipients, but the reasons to stipulate drug test outweighs the protests. We should absolutely drug test welfare recipients.
The United States spends over $1 trillion dollars a year in an effort to help people out of poverty . However, it never seems to work. In fact, the deficit continues to grow. It is a matter of fiscal responsibility, according to Eric Cory Rosenberg, that we begin putting stipulations on who can receive welfare and for how long (2013). Many people utilizing welfare services are experiencing hardships and are in desperate need of the money. They use it to feed and clothe their families. They also try to find a job in order to get themselves off of welfare because the point of welfare, as well as any other poverty program, is to promote self-sufficiency. This is the correct way to use the program. Unfortunately many people view welfare as a meal ticket. They do not attempt to find a job or get off welfare, and many of them do participate in the consumption of recreational drugs. This is illegal and will prevent them from getting a job. Rosenberg argues in his article that random drug screenings will allow the welfare program to serve people willing to abide by the law, while also serving people who are willing to live in a way that will allow them to find a job (2013). Individuals who are doing drugs will never ding work, continuing to drain money from the system while honest people go without; this is unacceptable, but something that drug screening will remedy.
Without drug testing, and other metaphorical hoops to jump through, the welfare system becomes another institution that encourages lifelong dependency. Drug testing would ensure that welfare would only be helping those that really need it while weeding out those who are looking for a free ride. Without drug testing, individuals with a history of drug use may lose their job, collect a government check, and continue feeding their habit without contributing anything back to society. Though this is obviously a smart idea, the outcry in Florida was so loud that politicians agreed to attempt compromising, by agreeing to only test welfare recipients with a history of drug use. They believed, according to a report by David Carpenter, that this would make the legal defense of the drug testing more reliable (2014). Screening all individuals seemed biased to the collection of welfare, while there was just cause behind screening individuals with a history of abuse. This still allowed the system to eliminate individuals who were not taking the program seriously.
The overwhelming opinion of welfare recipients and politicians against drug screening is that the act is unconstitutional, according to Carpenter’s report: “Constitutional Analysis of Suspicionless Drug Testing Requirements for the Receipt of Governmental Benefits.” People believe it stands against their Fourth Amendment Rights (2014). However, Florida solved this issue by only testing individuals with a history of substance abuse. Other states argue that over 50% of welfare recipients stay on it for longer than a decade, many of whom are incarcerated for trouble with the law involving substance abuse. Though not everybody is involved in this demographic, the argument could be made that the welfare system has probable cause to test all welfare recipients based on these statistics. Previous issues with abuse are an excellent indicator of future behavior, but there is also the matter of individuals who do not get caught. Those who begin experimenting while on welfare for long periods also need to be taken into account. Testing recipients with a history of abuse is a good place to begin, but it does not account for the wider demographic that needs to be accounted for. Some also believe that drug screening all welfare recipients simply on the basis that they are on welfare demonizes them, going against the idea that we are all innocent until proven guilty. The act of drug screening is said to be a mark of guilt; being on welfare must mean that the individual is suspect to recreational drug use. This is a stigmatization brought on by over 50% of welfare recipients being in repeated trouble with the law for substance abuse, but is of no consequence to lawmakers. It may appear to be unconstitutional to begin with, but perhaps only to those who have something to hide.
In sum, the best option for the welfare program is to begin drug screenings on all welfare recipients. The United States spends enough money as it is attempting to help people out of poverty; there is no point wasting money on people only interested in getting high. Drug screening will allow the welfare program to help those who are serious about helping themselves, thus promoting self-sufficiency. Small steps can be made, as Florida did, with only testing individuals with a history of substance abuse. This is not a long-term option, however. The act of drug screening all welfare recipients did appear unconstitutional at first but was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, according to Carpenter (2014). Testing small groups to appease the masses in the beginning is acceptable but eventually everyone will need to be subject to random screenings for the betterment of the program, as well as the betterment of the country’s finances.
Carpenter, D. H. (2014). Constitutional Analysis of Suspicionless Drug Testing Requirements for the Receipt of Governmental Benefits. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service.
Rosenberg, E. C. (2013). Mandatory Drug Screening for Welfare Recipients: Fiscally Responsible Limitation on Government Handouts or Constitutional Violation. Rutgers Journal of Law & Public Policy, 14-22.