March Editor’s Desk: Drug Testing Welfare

The Texas Senate passed a bill last year to drug test welfare applicants in order to cut off drug users from receiving money. Similar bills are being introduced to states nationwide. These laws are both a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and hazardous to the economy as the cost of drug testing exceeds any money saved by denying welfare.

The idea began when the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act was introduced into Congress by Republicans in 2011. Proponents argued that large numbers of drug users go on welfare to get money to support their habits, which feeds into the long-standing stereotype about the kind of people that go on welfare. While it failed to pass in the Senate, the concept gained traction in red states like Florida and Texas.

Each time such legislation is passed, the constitutionality is rightfully questioned. When striking down the law in Florida, US district Judge Mary Scrivens ruled that “the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment is a fundamental right.” She also noted that subjecting all applicants to drug testing causes irreparable harm to the subject being screened.

Drug testing welfare recipients is also a huge financial burden on a state’s budget. A study commissioned by the state of Idaho concluded that costs of drug testing welfare applicants were likely to exceed any money saved. This proved to be true in Florida, which lost over $45,000 in the first few months of implementing this program. Governments at all levels are attempting to slash budgets of vital services like education but seem to have no problem allocating for unnecessary expenditures.

The winner of these legislations isn’t the state, welfare applicants, taxpayers, or even the children of drug abusers. It is the companies that make drug tests, who have successfully lobbied our politicians in Austin and other capitols to achieve their ends. The question remains to be answered whether Americans can look past carefully disguised propaganda to see the harsh realities of our political system.