It is assumed by many that people who are receiving public assistance funds are using this money to support their alcohol and or drug addictions. Is drug testing to receive public assistance an answer to this problem? Would making this a condition of eligibility actually push people with serious substance abuse and or dependency problems farther away from the help and treatment they need?
Federal Welfare Reform
The Federal Welfare reform act which, was passed in the mid 1990’s has changed the way our system addresses these issues. PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) provided some distinctive features to address the issues, and changed the idea that there was universal entitlement for all, and helped to reinforce the notion that there is a class of the deserving poor. In 2001 California implemented the policies required and created our version of the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) called Cal-WORKS (California’s Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program.) This program has allowed for rules to be implemented such as time limits, work requirements and the availability of substance abuse treatment. (Newell, 2011)
The population and the substances.
According to the National Poverty Center (2004) the numbers have been overstated and the number of people that are on welfare and are abusing substances are lower than originally estimated. The studies have varied widely in their findings due to the different types of measurements used and the fact that most of these reports include other types of assistance such as General Assistance. The number quoted for the TANF programs are approximately 9.6%, these numbers very similar to the rates of use amongst the general population (Jayakody, Danziger, Seefeldt & Pollack, 2004).
The most common substances of abuse have been listed as alcohol, opioids, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. There are also concerns regarding the use of prescription medications as testing for this substance can be confused with some illicit drugs. In regard to alcohol, the window for testing this substance is very narrow and people can be testing clean even if they are abusing this substance. Alcohol has been determined to be the most abused substance among welfare recipients (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).
There are different types of testing that can be done, and they range in accuracy and cost. There are urinalysis tests, which range from $25 to $44 each as well as hair follicle test which cost from $75 to $150 per test. This does not include the additional staff, time, laboratory fees, and facilities to handle the procedures, not to mention the legal fees the states will incur if the laws are challenged. The overall estimates of savings are minimal considering the cost of testing and the additional administrative costs associated with it. These figures do not even include the added cost of providing treatment to those who have...