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Drug tests won’t save welfare

The most common political memes I see shared on Facebook have to do with welfare recipients mooching off the system and unfairly receiving undeserved benefits. Many of these misinformed ideas have led to the rise of support for drug testing welfare recipients. It has been implemented in some states, and people are starting movements to bring these reforms to other states. However, this is an approach that does not understand the issues with the welfare system, violates individuals’ rights, costs too much money and yields few results.

This idea is based on some sense of unfairness that some non-beneficiaries feel toward the welfare system. An argument I often see is, “I have to not do drugs so I can keep my job that pays for the people who don’t work.” These people don’t want their tax dollars going to drug habits. But this idea is predicated on a stereotype that welfare recipients are lazy drug users. This is unfounded by all of the data that we have on the demographics of social programs.

Another argument for drug tests is that they will save money by getting people off the programs. One example of a state that implemented drug testing is Florida. In the first year of the program, only 2.6 percent of the recipients failed the test and lost their benefits. What is interesting is that Florida’s illegal drug use rate is 8 percent but only 2.6 percent failed the test. The state’s policy stated that anyone who passed the test would get reimbursed for the cost of the test. With very few people failing, the state ended up spending more money on the drug tests than they saved by restricting benefits.

Drug-testing people without probable cause is a violation of Fourth Amendment freedoms from search and seizure. The government can only search you if they have probable cause to do so. Poverty is not a probable cause of drug use. A counterpoint to this is often that you are not guaranteed government benefits and have no right to welfare, so a search is perfectly fine.

My questions back to them are — where do you stop? Is it just Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients? What about Medicare, or Medicaid? Social Security? Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)? Which programs need this, and which don’t? The complexity of the welfare state alone is enough to create a mess in the logistical end of this policy.

The problems of the welfare state have nothing to do with drug users exploiting the state. Welfare has its problems because it is either income-based or means-tested. Both of these create either situations that add to the bureaucratic size of the government and make the programs bulky and complicated. In addition to this, the fact that only some people get benefits will always create a divide.

That is why fixing the efficiency and fairness of welfare requires implementing a basic income. Basic income is a guaranteed income provided by the government to all citizens. Its intentions are the same as welfare; it provides a minimum standard of living for all citizens. But it does so in one program, instead of the 80 that we currently have in the United States.

Because everyone receives those benefits, no one is left bitter because they see some people undeservingly receiving money. Since everyone’s basic needs are met, anything extra just helps. Regardless of the severity of actual problems, the current welfare system will always have this issue. That is why only changing the fundamentals of the system will never move us forward on this issue.

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