Last year, Utah Republicans passed and enacted a law that mandated drug testing for welfare recipients.
Now, if you’re the kind of person who forwards apocryphal stories about voter impersonation and drug-addled welfare queens, this makes sense to you—obviously, if you’re on public assistance, you’re probably using drugs. But, if you the kind of person who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea.
While drug use is more common among women receiving welfare, the overall incidence rate is small; in one study, only 3.6 percent of recipients satisfied screening criteria for drug abuse or dependence. Among food-stamp recipients—another group targeted for testing—the rate is similarly low.
The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.
Which, judging from the GOP’s continued enthusiasm for the idea, is enough. In Ohio, for instance, state senator Tim Schaffer has introduced legislation that would establish a drug-testing program for the state’s welfare program. “It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer said. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”
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