West Virginia to Begin Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

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West Virginia to Begin Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

While most states are currently finding drug testing welfare applicants to be highly inefficient, lawmakers in West Virginia don’t seem to care.

This past week, Gov. Tomblin signed a bill which will provide funding for a 3-year program. It will require some welfare applicants to participate in drug testing in order to receive cash assistance.

According to ThinkProgress.org:

The law, which goes into effect in June, will require case workers to screen applicants for “reasonable suspicion” of drug use and refer that group to drug testing. If the applicant fails a drug test, he can maintain benefits as long as he enrolls in drug treatment and job training programs, but a second failed test could mean he loses benefits for up to a year and a third failed test would ban him for life.

If the program gets federal approval, W. Virginia will become the 14th state in the country to mandate drug testing for welfare applicants. Many believe it’s a waste of time and resources. There’s little evidence that welfare recipients are engaging in drug abuse anymore than anyone else – indeed, it may be the opposite. And what about alcohol consumption? I know it’s not illegal, but I think there’s a bit of a double standard here.

ThinkProgress ran numbers in 2015, Here are the rates for applicants testing positive:

  • Arizona 0.002%
  • Kansas 0.4%
  • Missouri 0.1%
  • Mississippi 0.1%
  • Oklahoma 8.9%
  • Tennessee 0.2%
  • Utah 0.3%

Most are below 1%. Oklahoma appears high, but it actually matches the drug use rate in general, which is about 9%. Missouri’s program was the most expensive in 2015. Out of over 31,000 applicants, just 38 tested positive, and it cost the state more than $336,000. Arizona, on the other hand, had no positive tests, and spent a paltry $85.

So why the low numbers? There’s a few potential explanations:

  1. Welfare applicants use drugs at a lower rate that the rest of the population because they simply can’t afford them.
  2. The drug screening requirement of the application process is discouraging some from applying. Last year, Tennessee discovered that over 100 people refused to go through the screen process, fearing they would test positive and incur criminal repercussions.
  3. Saying “no” to a drug screening tool is easy. There’s no real incentive to tell the truth, unless you really want to get help,

Commentary

Drug testing welfare applicants can be a costly endeavor. For the very few that are coming to light, I’m not sure it’s worth it. I am all for getting people into drug treatment programs, but what if they really are being scared away? What is this program really going to accomplish?

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