Recently, there has been discussion regarding government benefits, such as unemployment. This discussion has focused on a new, potential requirement to receive benefits such as welfare: drug testing. People who are applying for benefits like welfare or unemployment would have to be tested for illegal drugs (Alcindor, 2012). If they were found to use drugs, they could be denied benefits. This would seen to make sense, because those who are out of work and needing government assistance should not be spending the money they do receive on illegal drugs or other nefarious activities. However, the American taxpayers are concerned about where the money for the drug tests will come from, and the federal government is already stating that states which pass this drug testing law for benefits will be in violation of federal law. That means these states could lose out on millions of dollars of benefits. Would that be more harmful than the idea that some government benefit recipients may be using drugs instead of spending their benefit money wisely? That is a question that can be difficult to answer and can vary between states.
There are two main issues at stake here. These include whether drug testing welfare recipients is a violation of federal law, and where the money will come from. While there are other concerns (such as whether it is offensive to ask these individuals to prove they do not do drugs before they can get assistance), the legality of the issue and the money needed to fund the tests are the most significant when it comes to whether there are (or will be) problems with the law if it is passed by any states. Discussion of this type of law has been heard in Arizona, Georgia, and Utah, among other states (Alcindor, 2012). Utah has signed it into law, to take effect in late 2012 (Adams, 2012). Other states have not made it part of their laws but they are still looking into it in an effort to determine whether they should try to get it passed or whether they would be better off allowing things to continue as they are.
Federal law does not require or allow for drug testing for those who are seeking assistance. Because of this, states that make drug testing laws will be at odds with the federal government. What will be done about that remains to be seen if and when the laws take effect. It seems as though most states are not concerned with what the federal government mandates on this issue, or they feel as though they must make laws that are right for their state regardless of the opinion of the federal government. This has happened before with various gun laws. It has also happened recently, most notably with the states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. While these states allow for its use under certain circumstances, it is still illegal under federal law. The same kind of issue may take place with states that require drug testing for benefits - but there is the potential for a larger problem. The federal government may pull millions of dollars in aid and funding from those states because the states are not complying with federal law.
Naturally, that would hurt the budgets for those states severely. In addition, the people who were relying on the benefits may not get them in a timely manner, or at all. It is easy to see that the people who really need the benefits (the vast majority of whom probably do not use illegal substances) could end up without what they need in order to pay their bills and have enough food to feed their families. It is no question that some recipients of welfare and other government programs abuse the system, but most who get the benefits actually need those benefits. They are not given that much, and they really need more than what they get in many cases. If they lose out because of the actions of the state, there will be a great deal of anger and resentment. However, it is still understandable that the state does not want to give aid money to people who are going to spend it on illegal drugs (Yee, 2012). There are two sides to the story, and both make sense. It has become a conundrum.
In Florida, which already has a program for drug testing applicants, 96% of the individuals who applied for aid passed the drug test (Rivas, 2011). Two percent failed, and another two percent did not go through the entire application process to become eligible (Rivas, 2011). Their reasons for doing so were not specified. That brought to light a serious consideration. Is the idea of making applicants for welfare and other government assistance programs take a drug test a cost-effective one? Does it really make much of a difference in how much aid is given out and whether the people who receive that aid are "deserving" of it? There are bigger concerns for welfare and government programs, such as how many people are working "under the table" while still getting assistance, and how many are selling their food stamps and WIC vouchers so that they can get the cash to spend on something else. Stopping people from engaging in those activities may be much more important than worrying about the 2% to 4% of people who are not passing drug tests when they come in for public assistance.
Drug testing costs the state, and is not free. Every person who is tested when he or she applies for welfare or other assistance programs adds up. How those people's tests are paid for is also at the heart of this issue, because the taxpayers are tired of what they perceive as abuses of the money they pay into the system to the IRS each year, as well as the taxes they pay on goods they buy and all kinds of other things. For each good thing that taxpayer money is used for it seems like there are many bad things where money is just wasted. This leads many to believe that the government is just squandering the money that it has been given by the taxpayers, and people do not want to see that go on any longer. Anything they see as an abuse of taxpayer money is something that will likely have to be changed in the future, or the voice of the American people who are against that particular use of their money is simply going to get louder and louder until it cannot be ignored.
So far, Florida has not lost funding or any other money from the federal government because it requires drug testing for assistance applicants (Rivas, 2011). However, the state of Arizona is considering a similar measure and discussing the potential to lose federal funding. How much would be lost and how quickly that would happen remains to be seen. Utah may end up with problems later this year, when its drug testing law goes into effect. Its law requires applicants for assistance to fill out a questionnaire. If the answers on that questionnaire are deemed suspicious at all, the applicant will be asked to take a drug test. A positive result will require the applicant to attend drug treatment and stay clean in order to continue to receive benefits. Who is paying for the testing and who is paying for the treatment are both questions that taxpayers have - and they are generally not liking the answers they are receiving. Other states, like Colorado, have not been successful in passing drug testing legislation for those people who apply for welfare or government assistance in their state (Hoover, 2012).