Should we be Drug Testing Welfare Recipients?

Should we be Drug Testing Welfare Recipients?


One of the things that can be very frustrating is when you see how often food stamps are sold for half price and then turned into drugs or booze. There is even a well established going rate for such a conversion, which seems to be fifty cents on the dollar when you trade in your food stamps for real cash. But in reality, when you look at the data, only about 3 percent or less of food stamps are actually being laundered in this way.

The Guardian says that “psychiatrists have warned that drug-testing welfare recipients will not address drug or alcohol addiction and is at odds with 50 years of evidence about behavioral change.”

Some states have rolled this out. Utah, for example, began drug testing welfare recipients, and they found that a very small percentage (less than 5% or so) of people on welfare were testing positive for drugs.

And the real problem with this testing is the cost. The ratio of the cost to test people versus the money saved by denying benefits is often about ten thousand to one. Meaning that for every ten thousand dollars that the government spends in drug testing on welfare recipients, they save or “earn back” roughly one dollar.

Not a great deal, right? But for some reason, there is an attitude among certain political parties in America to want to punish the poor.

You have to ask yourself: If you were addicted to alcohol or drugs, and suddenly you were denied your food stamps, how would this affect your addiction? Would you shrug your shoulders and say “oh well, there goes my free ride, I may as well knock off this alcohol consumption.” Of course not. Your addiction doesn’t depend on your food stamp benefits, not even a little.

The idea that people who are receiving government money need to be tested should be applied equally, even if the person is not on welfare. For example, a homeowner who receives a mortgage credit is receiving government money, why not drug test that person? They are receiving money and they could just as easily be on drugs as the person who has no job, no income, and is currently homeless. Yet for some reason, we discriminate against the homeless person, and we prejudge them to believe that “all homeless people are on drugs.” The reality is that plenty of people who receive some sort of government funding, assistance, or tax breaks–including wealthy people–are “on drugs” or they are alcoholic or they have some sort of dependency issue. Yet we discriminate against the poor.

Treatment is the solution, not punitive testing. Spreading a message of hope would be a better use of our state dollars. The data indicates that it cost about 100 to 1,000 times more money to do the drug testing and try to “catch people” than the money that could be saved by denying them of services.

If we want to be serious about helping people who are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction then the solution is prevention and treatment services. We need to educate people so that they know that a solution exists. It is estimated that up to about three fourths of all drug and alcohol abusers don’t ever seek out inpatient rehab, which would be the go-to solution for someone who is truly struggling. And even then, of the people who seek out help at rehab, a large percentage will relapse and never make a second attempt, which is often necessary in order to succeed in recovery.

If you want to turn your life around then you need to empower yourself to be in a position to do so. For a person struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction this means that you need to get professional help for your dependency so that you can break free. The problem with addiction is that it drags everyone down to the same level of struggle at some point. Eventually you lose nearly everything: your relationships, your income, your ability to work, your ability to manage a family, and so on. Left unchecked, addiction will take all of it away. Having assistance from welfare or food stamps has very little bearing on both your addiction itself or your prospects for recovery. A wealthier person will eventually face many of the same consequences that a poor person in addiction will face. Addiction does not discriminate. It is an equalizer of sorts.

In the same way, recovery is an equalizer. If you turn your life around and start looking for professional help then you can start living a far better life almost immediately. A wealthy person does not really have much of an advantage over a poor person when it comes to the recovery process itself, because so much of it is internal and has to do with surrender. In other words, affording the very best medical care and treatment facilities is not necessarily going to give you a huge advantage, or any advantage at all. This also means that a very poor person has the opportunity to turn their life around in recovery in much the same way that a wealthier person has that opportunity. The two people may be accessing a different level of resources, but in the end the outcomes are based more on their level of surrender than anything else. It is a bit like flying in a plane: Both economy seating and first class will get you to the destination. Do you want more leg room with that recovery journey? In the end it won’t matter too much, as both people “arrived” in the same place.

Hopefully we can do away with the idea that drug testing welfare recipients could be useful to society. And hopefully we can find ways to treat every economic strata of society that is struggling with substance abuse issues. In the end, we can create a similar benefit to society for each individual that we sober up, no matter where they fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. The reason for this is because “healed people heal people,” meaning that helping just one individual to recover could potentially inspire thousands more.