Mandatory drug testing for parents applying for orreceiving assistance from the Temporary Assistancefor Needy Families (TANF) program has beenproposed repeatedly over the past few years.Legislators in at least 27 states have proposedsuspicionless drug testing with some even extendingit to recipients of other public benefits as well, suchas unemployment insurance, medical assistance andfood assistance.
At the federal level, Senator DavidVitter (R
LA) has offered bills and amendmentsmultiple times to impose mandatory drug testing onTANF recipients and deny them eligibility if theyfailed a second test after treatment. The most recentis
The Drug Free Families Act of 2011
Lastsummer, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) proposedmandatory drug testing for TANF and unemploymentinsurance recipients.Proposals for mandatory drug testing of TANFrecipients are based on stereotypes and not evidence.Proponents often claim that drug testing will savemoney; however, this is based on a false assumptionthat many applicants will be denied benefits.Random testing is a costly, flawed and inefficientway of identifying recipients in need of treatment.Better alternatives exist and are already beingimplemented to address drug abuse among TANFbeneficiaries and ultimately reduce their barriers towork. Moreover, universal random drug testing maywell be unconstitutional. In 2003,
testing program was struck down as a violation of the
Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches
without reasonable cause. Finally, because sanctionsfor noncompliance put vulnerable children at risk,state and federal policymakers should not enact morebarriers to a safety net program that protectslow
income children and families, especially duringan historic economic downturn and decline in thelabor market.Research finds little evidence that drug use and/orabuse is particularly prevalent among TANFbeneficiaries. Although recent data is limited, anddefinitions and populations vary,
studies have putthe portion of the TANF recipient population with asubstance abuse disorder at anywhere between fiveand 27 percent,
and those reporting illicit drug usearound 20 percent or less.
In 1996, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse andAlcoholism found
that “proportions of welfare
recipients using, abusing, or dependent on alcohol orillicit drugs are consistent with proportions of boththe adult U.S. population and adults who do notreceive welfare.
Furthermore, Michigan, the onlystate to have imposed random drug testing on TANFbeneficiaries, found that only 10 percent of recipientstested positive for illicit drugs, with 3 percent testing
positive for “hard” drugs, such as cocaine.
Theserates are consistent with its general population.
While other studies show that TANF recipients aresomewhat more likely to have tried illicit drugs orhave substance abuse disorders than the generalpopulation, the fact remains that a large majority of recipients do not use drugs.For a small group of TANF recipients, substanceabuse is a significant barrier to employment. Onesurvey of TANF directors, found that they consideredsubstance abuse the third most significant barrier towork for recipients.
States do already have policies