The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, “few” applicants have been caught up in the “drug-screening net.” How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.
Note, I don’t mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.
In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries – which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt – has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing – in practice, in the courts, or both.
And yet, several GOP policymakers just can’t seem to help themselves.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests – a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. […]The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it’s against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance – a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. “We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court,” he told the Journal Sentinel in September.
Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it’s a two-fer – he gets to look “tough” on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.
Of course, it’s not just Walker. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently approved a policy of drug testing welfare recipients, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea.
The case against the policy is pretty straightforward. It’s legally dubious for states to require poor people to give up bodily fluids in exchange for benefits they’re entitled to; it’s exceedingly expensive to administer the tests; and wherever these policies have been implemented, they’ve failed to produce much of anything in the way of results.
But as we’ve discussed before, perhaps the most striking problem is the ugly assumptions driving the policy itself. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.
If you’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water, maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle. If you’ve fallen on hard times and need the public safety net, the state should probably assume you have a drug problem.
Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction.