Welfare Drug Tests Aren’t Good For The States

img_1402Hey there reader.  I hope you’re doing great.  Welfare is a sensitive subject in the U.S.: a worker’s income is taxed and part of it is given to another person.  Welfare recipients want to be respected without feeling humiliated for accepting welfare.  Often times, the worker might feel resentful or skeptical of the welfare recipient’s misfortune: they could be faking it.  And the worker might believe the welfare recipient is poor because they are lazy and made immoral life choices such as illegal drug use.

To counter welfare abuse and the free rider problem, several state legislatures enacted welfare drug tests which applicants must pass in order to receive public resources.  This blog will prove, welfare drug tests aren’t good for America.


Welfare is defined as a government program for poor or unemployed people which helps pay for their food, housing, medical costs and is the state of being happy, healthy or successful.

Common Welfare Myths

  1. Everyone who uses welfare uses illegal drugs.  And welfare recipients are poor because they use illegal drugs.
  2. Welfare applicants will stop using illegal drugs because they need welfare to survive.
  3. If someone has enough income to buy illegal drugs then they do not need welfare.
  4. People become wealthy by receiving welfare.
  5. Welfare traps people in a cycle of dependence and poverty.


Aid to Families with Dependent Children was a successful federal assistance program enacted during the Great Depression in 1936.  The program was replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in 1996 which permitted but did not require drug testing.  13 states enacted welfare drug tests between 1996 and  2015; Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah.  Arizona was the first state to initiate the welfare drug test in 2009.  Florida drug tested welfare applicants from July to October 2011.  Utah enforced the welfare drug test from August 2012 until July 2013.


Utah spent more than $30,000 to test welfare recipients for illegal drug use.  They effectively blocked 12 out of 466 applicants according to the Department of Workforce Services.  The authors of the Utah law said the goal was to help welfare applicants quit their illegal drug use and return to work.

In Florida, 108 out of 4,086 people failed their welfare drug tests.  The most common reason for failing was marijuana use.  The drug tests cost taxpayers a total of $45,780 but tests were halted by a federal judge, Mary S. Scriven.  Judge Scriven issued a temporary injunction which suspended drug testing in October 2011.  Note: an additional 40 people canceled their welfare drug test which meant the applicant did not access public resources.

Arizona lawmakers believed they would save $1.7 million per year when they enacted their welfare drug test law.  The Department of Economic Security tested applicants with reasonable cause, translation: applicants who were already suspected of using illegal drugs.  One lawmaker said, “We don’t want people who are abusing drugs to be on welfare because that means that the taxpayers are subsidizing and facilitating illegal-drug use.”.  After 3 years of drug testing, 1 of 87,000 applicants failed their drug test.  The savings of blocking the welfare applicant: $560.  And note: an additional $200,000 was also saved because 1,633 people dropped out of the drug test application process.  Each drug test cost taxpayers $42, or $3.6 million over the 3 year period.

Legal Analysis

A founding principle of the American judicial system is the presumption of innocence: the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each essential element of the crime charged.

Furthermore, the fourth amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government and against arbitrary arrests.  The fourth amendment reads

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

When Judge Scriven issued her temporary injunction in Florida in October 2011 she said it “appears likely to be deemed a constitutional infringement.”  And Michigan’s welfare drug test law was struck down in the Marchwinski v. Howard decision in the US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003 because it was unconstitutional, a violation of the fourth amendment.

Historical Context 

Before we conclude whether welfare drug tests are good for America or not, we need to analyze why these beliefs exist in the first place.  I believe American culture is a product of our institutions.  And historical context will provide us with a perspective of these institutions within the culture.

After World War Two, the West engaged with the Eastern Bloc in a 44-year struggle known as the Cold War.  The West believed the Soviet Union was atheist, backward, communist, immoral, liberal, socialist and redistributed an abundant amount of welfare its people.

The West was also heavily involved in providing funds, welfare, to rebuild Western European nations destroyed in WW2 under the Marshall Plan.  The US actively defended democratic capitalism from the Eastern Bloc and became the antithesis of the Soviet Union: a highly moral, Christian, innovative, free market economy bound by conservative principles.  Television, movies, and music reflected good old wholesome family values back their audiences.

During the Cold War, there were social and political events which rocked the country: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Immigration Act of 1965, the political assassination of JFK, Malcolm X, RFK and MLK Jr. in 1963, 1965 and 1968, respectively.

When western intellectuals, political dissidents, and celebrities criticized western policies, such as the Vietnam War, for example, or published anti-western books or produced movies, they were black-balled, labeled as communists, socialists, liberals or anti-war.  This was the West’s equivalent of sending someone to the gulag.  Ironically, the West negotiated trade deals with another more agrarian but less threatening communist country during the 1970s, China.

The western propaganda model worked well for conservatives during the Cold War.  But the USSR began to crumble under the new of leadership Mikhail Gorbachev.  His policies of glasnost (transparency) and perestroika (restructuring) ruined the USSR after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986.  The Cold War came to an end in 1991.

After the Cold War, it became ok for westerners to criticize western policies without fear of professional excommunication: citizens could be as atheistic, immoral, liberal or socialist as they wanted.  Advocating for welfare was no longer a cultural taboo.

Myth Analysis

Welfare is such a general term using our definition, it is analogous to all public services provided by the state that improve a person’s quality of life.  Using this logic, even high-income athletes, bankers, celebrities, investors and everyone else benefits from state-administered public services because they drive on public roads, are defended by the armed forces, use police, firefighters and use the judicial system to enforce contracts and property rights.  Therefore, athletes, bankers, celebrities, investors and everyone else for that matter should have to pass drug tests to access public resources.  It should be obvious then, the myths about welfare and illegal drug use are just that: myths.

The first myth is a fallacy of composition and violates the presumption of innocence.  In 1996, a study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found the differences between welfare and non-welfare recipients using illegal drugs was statistically insignificant.  This is consistent with the findings of the welfare drug tests: not everyone who used welfare used illegal drugs, in fact, illegal drug use was rare among applicants.  Furthermore, the welfare drug test violates the fourth amendment because it is an illegal search: there was no probable cause established to test for illegal drugs.

The second myth attempts to prove a negative.  It is a myth, welfare applicants will stop using illegal drugs because they need welfare to survive: as we saw in Florida and Arizona, more than a thousand welfare applicants dropped out of the application process before completing their drug test.  And some of the dropouts might have actually passed the drug test but chose not to take it.  Are we to assume then these drug test drop outs overdosed or died from illegal drugs because the welfare, essential to their survival was withheld?  Nope.  Could the drug test drop out get resources from other locations, such as churches or nonprofits?  Probably.  Did they quit their illegal drug use habit or go to rehabilitation?  Who knows.  Finally, did they improve their quality of life without welfare and continue to use of illegal drugs?  This is uncertain.  My point is, there are too many unknown conclusions because dropouts refused to complete their welfare drug tests in the first place.  The purpose of welfare is to increase the quality of life for the recipient, not to catch deviants.  The welfare drug test probably would increase the applicant’s distrust of democracy.

The third myth is an assumption, correlation is not causation: if someone has enough income to buy illegal drugs then they do not need welfare.  But illegal drug users buy things other than illegal drugs.  They spend money on the same life essentials as everyone else; rent, utilities, transportation, nutrition, healthcare.  These life essentials are taxed by the state at the point of sale.  It seems spiteful to block illegal drug users from accessing public resources: landlords need tenants to occupy their rooms, farmers need consumers to eat their products.  My point is, it is false to assume that because the applicant has income for illegal drugs, they do not need welfare.  As I wrote earlier, everyone needs welfare, even athletes, bankers, celebrities, and investors.  And everyone pays for a high-quality life such as defense, highways, police, firefighters, public schools, public hospitals and public healthcare.  Finally, illegal drug use is temporary but the need for a higher quality of life is always constant.

The fourth myth is another fallacy of composition: yes, welfare fraud and abuse happen but it is rare.  The idea of someone actually becoming wealthy from welfare defies logic: work is much more benevolent than welfare is.  And welfare recipients apply for benefits because they cannot work or their work is not as benevolent as they hoped.  The only way for someone to become rich off of welfare is to actually commit fraud against the system.  Also, it is difficult to become rich on low income alone: 4.5 million Americans live on less than $2 per day in America.  It is difficult to see how anyone can get wealthy on that.

This getting rich off of welfare myth originated during the Cold War when Ronald Reagan campaigned for the White House in 1976.  Reagan ran on the southern strategy popularized by Richard Nixon in response to the racial and social change in America during the 1960s.  Reagan villainized Chicagoan, Linda Taylor and claimed she was a Cadillac driving welfare queen.

“She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

It is a myth, one can become wealthy from living on welfare.  Reagan used the racially coded language of movement conservatism when he talked about young bucks using food stamps in his campaign stump speeches.  In America, class often overlaps with race.  And what Reagan implied and what working white people heard was poor black people were abusing the welfare system and were living at their expense.  Therefore, white people were led to believe the entire welfare system should be abolished because of the outliers.  Welfare drug test advocates equate drug use to welfare because white want welfare to be illegal as well.  They consider welfare and illegal drug use as immoral and the drug test is a matter of spite and resentment.

The fifth myth is just a lie: welfare doesn’t trap people in poverty, it helps them live a higher quality of life than without it.  Suppose a poor person who does not receive welfare is suffering.  They cannot work, pay bills, stimulate the economy, vote, develop relationships or pay taxes.  Without welfare, how could they be expected to be fully productive in their jobs if they are always worrying about rent, utilities, nutrition, healthcare?  With a minimal amount of welfare, the recipient lives a higher quality of life than without it and they are more productive as a result.  Welfare doesn’t trap people in poverty, it empowers them to live a more fulfilling life.

Let’s be honest, the welfare drug test is really class warfare: the working classes and ownership classes vs. the poor.  And even some working class people benefit from welfare as well because income from work is low, today: half of all American jobs pay less than $30,000 per year as of 2013.  Workers resent the fact their income is taxed and is paid to people who are worse off than them.  But using this logic, workers’ resentment should also be applied to the disabled and elderly because the disabled and elderly receive Social Security and Medicare.  And workers should resent students who attend public schools and our military, police, firefighters, teachers, professors, public doctors, and nurses.  These public service employees provide a higher quality of life to us all every day and ensure everyone lives a higher quality of life with more public resources than without them.

The welfare drug test might actually create more poverty, crime and drug deaths: drug users who were blocked from accessing resources might steal, murder or worse die from lack of resources.  Looking at it a different way, a dead drug user would be bad for businesses, state welfare departments and governments in general: dead people can’t go to rehabilitation, work, vote, pay child support or taxes.


The purpose of the welfare system is to provide resources and improve the quality of life of the recipient.  Welfare isn’t intended to catch deviants.  Welfare drug testing was expensive and didn’t stop illicit drug use: applicants dropped out of the drug testing process, which was probably the real intention of the welfare drug test in the first place.

As of this writing, there are no states which require welfare recipients to pass a drug test.



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I want to write about new experiences, the people I meet and the things I learn. I moved from Tempe, AZ to Arlington, VA with my dog 5 years ago. We love it here.

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