On Tuesday, the Virginia senate approved a bill that would require an initial drug screening of welfare applicants, followed by drug testing if officials suspected illegal drug use. Those who test positive or refuse to test altogether would lose Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (cash assistance) benefits for a year.
As Robert Rector argued in U.S. News & World Report:
Welfare assistance should not be a one-way handout or open-ended entitlement. We ought to provide such aid on the basis of reciprocal obligation.… [Recipients] should engage in responsible and constructive behavior as a condition of receiving aid.
Requiring welfare recipients to stop using illegal drugs is a core element of reciprocal obligation.
Virginia wouldn’t be the first state to implement this policy. Arizona currently requires drug-testing for welfare recipients, and Florida put into place a drug-testing policy last May.
Since then, Florida has seen significant declines in welfare participation. During the first month of the program, 9.6 percent of applicants were deemed ineligible for welfare because of drug use. This produced an estimated savings of $9.1 million in the first year of the program. If every state had a similar drug-testing policy with the same rate of cost savings, the United States would save over $127 million annually.
TotalU.S.welfare spending amounted to $911 billion in 2011.
As Rector notes, “taxpayers have a right to insist that their financial help not only goes to those who truly need it but that it’s not wasted on frivolous or self-destructive activities such as drug use.”
Virginia’s proposal to encourage greater responsibility among welfare recipients is a step in the right direction to creating a welfare system that promotes self-sufficiency. It goes hand-in-hand with other policies (such as work requirements and time limits) that discourage government dependence.
As Rector asserts, “It’s just common sense that a well-designed program of drug testing is one of the important tools in any effective welfare-to-work strategy.”