Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: Punitive or Humane?

Proposals to drug test welfare recipients have received harsh criticism in recent days, including charges that they are unconstitutional. Critics have been particularly tough on the plan contained in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s latest budget proposal.

Though several states are pursuing slightly differing plans, the main idea is that if a person is using illegal drugs, benefits could be withheld unless they enter treatment to overcome their drug abuse.

In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the idea was compared to throwing an elderly person off of Medicare because of diabetes, when “decades of research have firmly established substance use disorders as medical conditions to be prevented and treated as early as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post attacked the suggestion that welfare recipients use drugs at higher rates than the general population, charging the proposal merely introduces stigma. Nearly every critic cites a Florida study where, according to the New York Times, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive (108 of 4,086, with 40 applicants refusing the test).