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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Drug testing costs more than it saves

Over the past six years, many states have adopted drug-testing programs for welfare recipients to ensure government and taxpayer dollars are going to support families with children in need and not the rampant substance abusers Republicans seem to think make up this population. With over 100 million Americans receiving government assistance in 2011, drug testing seems like the right move — but it’s not.

As always, Arizona is the frontrunner in discriminatory, potentially illegal and otherwise bullying legislation — we started our drug-testing program in 2009 as part of a greater state program to make people hate us. Of the 87,000 people tested, only one person tested positive for illicit and disqualifying drug use. The $560 in saved benefits certainly makes up for the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on testing.

In 2012, 4,086 Florida residents were tested in a similar program with just 108 (2.6 percent) of them failing the drug test for a cost of $45,780 to taxpayers. Some simple math reveals that similar testing in Arizona would cost about $975,000, and when compared to the savings from the one drug used, $560, and the 1,633 people who did not return their surveys and were subsequently denied benefits, around $200,000, taxpayers lost about $775,000 while simultaneously humiliating already-underserved citizens.

A similar program in Virginia was halted after a $1.5 million dollar cost was tied to a measly $229,000 in savings, an 85 percent loss on investment.

I’ve never taken a statistics course, but these numbers should shock anyone with a calculator and a pulse. It’s no surprise then that we have a national deficit — lawmakers can’t do math. And while it is true that welfare recipients, specifically women, suffer from substance abuse — predominantly alcohol — this is not the main reason barring them from gainful employment.

According to studies conducted by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, substance-abusing women receiving government assistance face a variety of barriers.

“The most common barriers to work among substance abusing women were: low work experience (81 [percent]), low educational level (48 [percent]), low job skills (65 [percent]), lack of transportation (88 [percent]) and generalized anxiety disorder (49 [percent]),” according to a report by the program

A normal person might look at these numbers and think, among supporting similar programs for the general population, that these women could benefit from anti-poverty work, mental health education and treatment and professional development programs. Barring the logical, our legislatures — and by that I mean Republicans — have opted for deleterious and dehumanizing campaigns against the poor.

This crusade against the poor is made worse, and stupider, by the fact that elected officials — presumably literate and educated — aren’t exactly sure how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money can be spent. Citing already prevalent concerns that government assistance is being spent on weed, campaigns like the “No Welfare for Weed Act” — thanks, Arizona — have been started to prevent this clear misuse of funds.

I get it, you don’t want the unemployed and otherwise impoverished toking up on the government dime, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it abundantly clear that SNAP recipients are only allowed to use the benefits on approved food items and cannot buy alcohol, tobacco or non-food items. SNAP benefits definitely cannot be withdrawn from ATMs in the form of cash, although TANF and a few other programs can.

These cash-benefit programs, however, are tightly restricted, and, while times are certainly a-changing, I don’t think dealers are providing receipts these days. Think about it, Republican legislators: Do you think your son or daughter’s dealers would accept food stamps or provide them a receipt for the weed and other drugs they are purchasing?

The long and short of it is that these programs are not even remotely effective. The only purpose they serve, other than to be a blatant disregard for effective spending, is to demonize the poor and reinforce the notion that welfare recipients are uninhibited drug users.

No one is fooled, though, and these programs are just making a mockery of a government that already grossly underserves its people. Republicans would be better off investing in productive programming, like the anti-poverty, mental health and professional development work previously discussed, rather than continuing to establish a legal basis for discrimination and harassment.


Nick Havey is a junior studying physiology and Spanish. Follow him on Twitter.

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