Columbus Dispatch Omits Key Facts On Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients


The Columbus Dispatch published an article discussing a new proposal to drug test welfare beneficiaries, failing to point out that drug testing laws are expensive, medically unsound, and have previously been found unconstitutional. In addition, reports indicate that welfare recipients are no more likely to use illicit drugs than the rest of the general population.

The Columbus Dispatch Provides Scant Details On Opposition To Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

The Columbus Dispatch Only Made One Mention Of Opponents' Concerns About Welfare Drug Testing Proposal. In a December 6 article discussing a proposal to drug test welfare recipients, the Columbus Dispatch devoted one line to the opposing argument:

Opponents say the proposal is mean-spirited, stigmatizes welfare recipients and might still be illegal. Earlier, they also introduced a proposal to conduct drug testing of state lawmakers and statewide officials, and there were questions about corporate leaders who get substantial state economic-development benefits. [Columbus Dispatch, 12/6/12]

Proposals To Drug Test Welfare Recipients In Other States Have Been Declared Unconstitutional

A Michigan Law To Drug Test Welfare Recipients Was Found Unconstitutional in 2003. According to the American Civil Liberties Union:

Michigan is the only state to attempt to impose drug testing of welfare recipients - a policy that was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003. The ACLU challenged the mandatory drug testing program as unconstitutional, arguing that drug testing of welfare recipients violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches. The case, Marchwinski v. Howard, concluded when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld a lower court's decision striking down the policy as unconstitutional. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/8/08]

Similar Laws In Kentucky, Ohio And Tennessee Were Also Found Unconstitutional. From the Drug Policy Alliance:

In fact, a 2003 ruling by a federal appeals court that covers the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee ruled that states cannot drug test welfare recipients because it's unconstitutional. Those states, and many others, could lose federal funding if the drug testing provision makes it into law. [Drug Policy Alliance, 3/16/05]

A Florida Law That Mandates Drug Testing For Welfare Applicants Was Blocked In October 2011. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked Florida's controversial law requiring welfare applicants be drug tested in order to receive benefits.

Judge Mary Scriven issued a temporary injunction against the state, writing in a 37-page order that the law could violate the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/25/11]

Florida Law Professors: Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is Unconstitutional. From WTSP News 10:

Stetson University's James Fox, an expert on constitutional law, wrote, "Ironically, the Florida Republican Party, which opposes federal health-care legislation as being unconstitutional, has adopted a welfare law far more likely to be found unconstitutional. This new law reveals hypocrisy."

Fox's colleague at Stetson, Bruce Jacob agrees, "It seems to me, the result would have to be, that if suit is brought here that the Florida law would be declared unconstitutional." [WTSP News 10, 8/25/11]

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is Costly For States

Florida's Welfare Drug Testing Law Cost The State Thousands In The Four Months It Was Implemented. From the American Civil Liberties Union:

The utter absurdity of this law is magnified when you realize how much it cost the state of Florida to run this program. The data released today shows that Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the overwhelming number of Florida TANF applicants -- 3,938 to be exact -- who tested negative for drugs. That is far more than any money saved by the program, at a net cost to the State of over $45,000. And that's only part of the cost to the state to run this program. There are also the administrative costs, staff costs, and, of course, the litigation costs. Furthermore, the testing program didn't deter individuals from applying for help -- an internal document about TANF caseloads revealed that, at least from July through September, the policy did not lead to fewer cases. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/18/12, emphasis added]

Idaho Department Of Health And Welfare Study: Cost To Drug Test Welfare Recipients Would Outweigh Savings. From the Associated Press:

A state study concluded the cost of mandatory drug testing of public assistance recipients would exceed any savings from booting offenders from programs.

Republican lawmakers demanded the study last March, saying their constituents considered it unfair that some Idahoans are drug-tested by their employers while those on public assistance are not.

The study by the Department of Health and Welfare found testing is forbidden for big welfare programs like Medicaid and food stamps.


"The costs of legal action alone during the first year could exceed the costs of the drug testing and treatment program," according to the study. "To fund the costs of the program, (Idaho) would need to either appropriate additional funding for a drug-testing program, or divert funds from current programs for the screening, testing and treatment activities."


Idaho's study estimates that if all 10,500 people in Idaho's child care assistance and temporary cash assistance programs were tested, the costs of the tests and subsequent treatment of those with positive results would range from $1.2 to $1.3 million, depending on whether state staff or contracted workers conduct the drug tests. Savings, however, would total just $1.13 million. [Associated Press, 2/11/11, via The Spokesman-Review]

ACLU: New York And Maryland Concluded That Randomly Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is "Not-Cost Effective." From the American Civil Liberties Union:

For example, New York and Maryland each considered a program to randomly drug test those receiving welfare, but abandoned the plan as not cost-effective, given that urinalysis is almost exclusively a barometer of marijuana use and that welfare recipients are required to undergo regular supervision, allowing for effective monitoring absent the cost and intrusion of mandatory drug testing. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/8/08]

Medical Experts Oppose Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

ACLU: "Science And Medical Experts Overwhelmingly Oppose The Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients." From the American Civil Liberties Union:

Science and medical experts overwhelmingly oppose the drug testing of welfare recipients.

  • The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recommended against implementing random drug testing of welfare recipients. CAMH believes that there was little benefit to testing and that the stigma associated with testing impacted those on welfare negatively. They recommended that resources be allocated towards better training for government workers to detect signs of substance abuse and mental disorders, as well as to greater assistance and treatment to those who need help. 
  • In addition, mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients is opposed by the 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, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/8/08, internal citations removed]

Welfare Recipients Are No More Likely To Use Drugs Than The General Population

Rate Of Florida Welfare Recipients Who Tested Positive For Drugs Was Three Times Lower Than Rate Of All Drug Users In Florida Ages 12 And Older. From the American Civil Liberties Union:

In the four months that Florida's law was in place, the state drug tested 4,086 TANF applicants. A mere 108 individuals tested positive. To put it another way, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for illegal drugs -- a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegal drugs. Now might be a good time to remind folks that in the debate over the bill, Gov. Rick Scott argued that this law was necessary because, he said, welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than the general population. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/18/12, internal hyperlink removed]

NIAAA Study: Proportion Of People Using Illicit Drugs No Higher Among Welfare Recipients. From a National Institute of Health news release on a study conducted by researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

Proportions of welfare recipients using, abusing, or dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs are consistent with proportions of both the adult U.S. population and adults who do not receive welfare, report National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism researchers in the November American Journal of Public Health.

However, certain age, gender, and ethnic characteristics of the general population group with alcohol or drug problems do not hold true for the welfare group with such problems, according to authors Bridget F. Grant, Ph.D., Ph.D., and Deborah A. Dawson, Ph.D., of NIAAA's Division of Biometry and Epidemiology. These differences help to identify segments of the welfare population that may be appropriate targets for alcohol and drug abuse interventions, suggest the authors.

"NIAAA's National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (NLAES) shows that alcohol and illicit drug indicators are far less prevalent among persons on public assistance than has been suggested by either the findings of less authoritative research or some public policy debates," said NIAAA Director Enoch Gordis, M.D. "This exemplifies anew the need for sound science to guide health policy deliberations." [National Institute of Health, 10/24/96]

In Michigan, 10 Percent Of Welfare Recipients Tested Positive For Drugs, A Number Consistent With Drug Use Of The General Population. From the American Civil Liberties Union:

Before the Michigan policy was halted, only 10% of recipients tested positive for illicit drugs. Only 3% tested positive for hard drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines -- rates that are in line with the drug use rates of the general population. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/8/12, internal citation removed]

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Justice & Civil Liberties
Columbus Dispatch
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