Should Arizona be drug testing Arizona welfare recipients?

PHOENIX - Each Sunday, ABC15.com debuts an Arizona issue - along with two opposing sides on the topic.

Don't worry, you always have the opportunity to make comments at the bottom of the page. Yeah, your opinion matters, too.

This week we're tackling the debate on whether or not Arizona should be drug testing welfare recipients.

State Representative Kimberly Yee says efforts in Arizona and across the country to allow for drug testing of those receiving welfare benefits are not only appropriate, they're imperative.

Anjali Abraham, Public Police Director of ACLU of Arizona, says, since drug use among welfare recipients is no greater than that among the general population, it makes no sense to target one small population of individuals.

So, should Arizona be drug testing Arizona welfare recipients?

Click "next page" to read the first of two positions, "It would be punishing people for being poor".


"It would be punishing people for being poor": By Anjali Abraham, Public Police Director of ACLU of Arizona

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, more commonly known as welfare, helps Arizonans who are in financial dire straits. But if it appears that a recipient may be using drugs, the recipient has to submit to a drug test in order to continue receiving benefits. Setting aside the considerable constitutional questions raised by this policy, drug-testing of welfare recipients is both scientifically unsound and fiscally irresponsible.

Of all the claims used to support drug testing of welfare recipients, the most insidious is that welfare recipients are more likely to use drugs. In fact, in praising his state's new suspicion-less drug testing law, Florida Governor Rick Scott argued that welfare recipients are more likely to use drugs. Not so fast. Numerous studies, including a major study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, have proven that drug use rates among welfare recipients are comparable to those among the general population. Indeed, almost 75 percent of illicit drug users actually have full-time jobs and are far less likely to apply for welfare assistance. Perhaps this is why several medical and public health organizations oppose drug testing of welfare recipients. That this erroneous claim of greater drug use lives on, even among those who should know better, tells us how poorly the discussion of drug use and welfare recipients has been handled.

Supporters of drug testing for welfare recipients also appeal to attractive-sounding notions of personal betterment and accountability. But since drug use among welfare recipients is no greater than that among the general population, it makes no sense to target one small population of individuals. True, welfare recipients do receive government money. But many Americans receive government money in one form or another—take scholarships and state contractors, for example. We don't drug test any of them, however, even though the research demonstrates that they are just as likely to use drugs. Zeroing in on welfare recipients simply punishes people for being poor. Rest assured, spending taxpayer dollars to force people to secrete bodily fluids in order to receive much-needed assistance does nothing to encourage personal accountability.

And drug testing is certainly expensive. The average cost of a drug test is roughly $42 per person. That figure does not include associated costs, such as administering the tests, analyzing specimens for accuracy, and implementing protocols to ensure confidentiality. Even worse, drug testing is an inefficient method of determining drug use. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in America, but most drug tests cannot detect alcohol abuse because alcohol exits the system too quickly. The same is true of even more powerful and addictive substances, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. Many states have found that cheaper, less invasive methods of determining drug use actually yield far more reliable results.

Drug testing of welfare recipients has no scientific justification and belies all credible data about the subject. It is costly and undependable. Employing better methods will save tremendous amounts of money and help people live better lives. Our communities deserve better than having to settle for less.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

Click "next page" to read the second position, "Protecting public dollars".


"Protecting public dollars": By Kimberly Yee, member of the Arizona House of Representatives representing District 10 in Phoenix

Receiving public benefits is a privilege, not a right.

As the country's unemployment rate remains at over 9 percent and this stagnant economy continues to linger under President Obama's "stimulus" policies and unbridled spending problems, many of our fellow Americans are struggling, and they find themselves having to turn to public assistance.

Many of these folks are good, industrious, law-abiding people who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances.

Sadly, some are not.

That is why efforts in Arizona and across the country to allow for drug testing of those receiving welfare benefits are not only appropriate – they're imperative!

The national debt has hit an astronomical $14.6 trillion, and taxpayers are increasingly on the hook for unfunded and unsustainable liabilities. Our entitlement programs are in peril and the President's spending addiction has led our country to the jagged edge of a full-scale fiscal cliff.

Taxpayer-paid entitlement programs need major reform and there is much in government that we simply can no longer afford. Still, I think most Americans, even my fellow fiscal conservatives, see the need for a safety net for those who are struggling and need to get back on their feet.

But it is fiscal and moral insanity to subsidize the use of illegal drugs with taxpayer money.

In Arizona, Republicans recently approved a budget that continues a program we began in 2010 to test welfare recipients if they are suspected of using drugs. Not only does this serve as a deterrent to breaking the law, but it also saves taxpayers from funding the lifestyles of those who are addicted to drugs. It could also serve as the means to help addicts receive the necessary treatment to get clean and become productive members of society once again.

With hardworking Arizonans making major sacrifices in their daily lives during this down economy, frankly, those on public assistance should be abiding by the law and not using our scarce public resources to fund their next hit.

I consider myself a Constitutional conservative and an adamant defender of our civil liberties. I am also a fiscal conservative and an adamant defender of the public dollar. With this policy, I see no conflict between those principles.

Taxpayers have the right to know their hard-earned dollars are being put to good use – not habituating someone's drug use activity.

Should a welfare recipient not want to submit to a drug test, then there is one very simple solution: Stop taking public assistance.

Do you agree with this opinion? Add a comment below to sound off.

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