BY: John “Hennry” Harris
Drug testing welfare applicants was a controversial measure when it was introduced and after a year, at least in Utah, it seems to have just been a big waste of taxpayer’s money.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ figures show the state has spent over $30,000 to drug screen welfare applicants in the past year and only 12 people have tested positive. Data also shows that from August 2012 through July 2013, Utah spent almost $6,000 to administer a written test that gauges likelihood of drug use, prompting the state to spend more than $25,000 in drug screening.
The data disproves the negative stereotype that welfare recipients are drug users and many feel the law, and others like it, are being used to stigmatize low income people.
Utah is one of at least eight states with legislation passed requiring drug screening for public assistance applicants. Many find the measure controversial because it seemingly reinforces negative stereotypes that the poor are all drug users. It has been reported that at 29 states have proposed similar laws this year.
Republican Rep. Brad Wilson has stated that the goal of Utah’s law was to help applicants receive treatment for any addictive substances to increase the likelihood of not only returning to work but maintaining that job as well. If applicants do fail the drug screening, their benefits are not cancelled, however, they are required to undergo substance abuse treatment.
The fallout over the law is also challenged legally as many feel the testing is a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure.
Michigan had the random drug test policy in place for only five weeks before a four year battle in federal appeals court declared the policy unconstitutional.
After only 108 people out of more than 4,ooo people in Florida tested positive for drugs, the policy was halted by a judge and the ban upheld in federal appeals court.
At least Utah is showing that it is truly trying to help its applicants that are testing positive. If legislators are willing to allow spending for such tests and policies then it is only right to have resources in place to help those that have been identified.