Drug testing welfare recipients: Not worth it

The Herald – opinion

Starting next week, welfare recipients in Arkansas will be subject to drug screening. Act 1205 allowed for a pilot program to test the effectiveness of drug screening in counties that border other states. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is planning on applying this act to the entirety of Arkansas.

From now on, applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, must go through a short drug questionnaire, from which the Department of Workforce Services will determine whether this person should be drug tested. 

If the applicant in question refuses to take the test or fails it, they will be suspended for six months from any government benefits, unless they decide to enroll in a treatment plan on their own dime. If the test comes up negative, the state pays for it; if it’s positive the applicant pays for the test.

Mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients is an idea that just feels right. 

People get angry at the thought of someone using their tax dollars to buy drugs, and I understand that. I don’t want to pay for someone else to get high either, but we need to realize that the cost of implementing these screenings far outweighs the amount we’d save by suspending people’s benefits. 

The Department of Workforce Services estimates the cost of the program to be $1.7 million. The governor’s administration estimates that the state would recapture just $40,000 in benefits from applicants who fail the drug test. That alone makes it clear that this is a horrible idea. 

The government is wasting $1.7 million to save less than 1 out of 40 of that amount. At first, the governor’s administration estimated the cost to be $1.5 million, but later lowered it to $100,000. You’ll notice that we’d still be out $60,000. Either way, even if this policy is good-intentioned, it is wildly impractical. 

Drug testing welfare applicants will …

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