Medical EthicsPolicy & LawPublic Health

Drug Testing for Welfare Benefits? Two Sides to the Issue

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Forcing welfare recipients to pass a drug test before receiving benefits is a hot button issue that’s up for debate in many state legislatures. The USA Today’s letter section does a good job of presenting different sides of the issue.

Forcing welfare recipients to pass a drug test before receiving benefits is a hot button issue that’s up for debate in many state legislatures. The USA Today’s letter section does a good job of presenting different sides of the issue.

On the pro side, Bruce Gary of Rhinelander, WI asserts that since many employees are subject to random drug tests as a condition of employment, there’s nothing stigmatizing about requiring welfare recipients to receive their funds. That’s a reasonable argument.

On the con side, Peter Provet from Odyssey House in New York City argues that there’s no reason to limit the testing to the poor. “Why not test all students in state-funded schools and mothers who giver birth in publicly funded hospitals?” I think you could take that logic even further and test everyone who receives Social Security or uses a public road.

Jim Karavite of Royal Oak, MI points out that children could end up suffering unjustly for the sins of their parents.

I see the merits of the various pro and con arguments but mainly come down on the con side overall. In particular, testing sounds great but is expensive to administer and leads to false positives that are difficult to overcome. It’s also no substitute for a comprehensive education, treatment and testing program. Provet’s point about other public programs is good food for thought, but Rhinelander also has a good argument that parallels employment and government payments.

Ultimately, this push for testing strikes me as a distraction and a wedge issue.


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