Welfare Drug Tests Yield These Unsurprising Results-Tennessee Republicans Are Schooled


In what should come as no surprise, the results of recent welfare drug tests in Tennessee have disproven a cruel stereotype often directed at our nation’s poorest. The results indicate that the overwhelming majority of people requiring public assistance in the state of Tennessee are not actually on drugs. According to Think Progress:

‘Out of 39,121 people who have applied for Families First in Tennessee benefits since the state instituted drug tests in mid-2014, just 65 have tested positive for narcotics. Only 609 of those applicants have even been asked to pee in a cup, because so few applicants give responses to a drug questionnaire that trigger urine tests. The positive test results amount to a 10.7 percent drug use rate among those tested, and the number of tests ordered amounts to just 1.6 percent of the total applicant pool. If the state’s drug screening questionnaire is as effective at gauging risk as the state thinks it is, then its two-layered testing system has revealed that just 0.2 percent of welfare applicants can’t pass a drug test.’

So yes, the results indicate that the drug-addicted welfare recipient is nothing more than a right-wing media myth intended to demonize our nation’s poorest people for political gain. All in all, the taxpayers spent $23,592 to find out that only 0.2 percent of their state’s welfare recipients can’t pass a drug test.

As State representative Sherry Jones explains, “obviously the numbers don’t justify the cost.” Jones’s comments are inline with many other voices in the past who have criticized the tests as wasteful. Many of these voices, like my own, probably made their points before stomping out of the room in frustration after somebody inevitably makes the awful point that employers also administer drug tests before hiring new workers. Likening a welfare application to a job application is, of course, absurd, but it’s a point many have bought into, allowing these programs to get off the ground in spite of their unconstitutional insanity.

Was that all money well-spent though? Were the costs worth preventing a small amount people from receiving public funds after breaking the law? Unfortunately, that depends on who you ask. Not everybody is willing to let go of their misperceptions about welfare recipients that easily.

For some, the evidence can be spun in exactly the opposite direction, completely undermining what it clearly confirms. Rep. Glen Casada, who voted in favor of the bill, told The Tennessean the following:

‘When you add up the 116 (who refused to go through drug screening) to the 65 people (who failed a drug test), that’s 175 or 180 people no longer receiving taxpayer-funded support for illegal activities. It’s a good investment that those who receive support at the largesse of taxpayers should not be using it to fund illegal activities.’

Trying to save working families a small amount of money is all well and good, but does it ever occur to welfare drug testing proponents that denying them the ability to meet basic subsistence is essentially denying them a right to live like the rest of us? Do they really think that denying the basic subsistence needs for 175 people just because they have a drug problem is in any way humane, especially when 70% of drug users are actually employed and fully functioning in our society? Why don’t we drug test our politicians while we’re at it?

Of course, it could easily be argued that a more effective redirection of the money currently invested in welfare drug testing would be into expanding the capacity for addiction treatment centers across the country. But I guess it’s easier just to shame poor people instead, even when the vast majority of them don’t have the time or money to support a drug problem to begin with. Making a serious effort to address the larger social problems that lead to drug addiction is just too much work anyway. But hey, it’s actually the welfare recipients who are being lazy, am I right? Pee in the cup.

Featured image by Micah Baldwin via Flickr, under a creative commons license.