Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is Illogical

Drug testing is a practice that is difficult to justify whether it is for welfare or a new job. When it’s taxpayer funded, however, there needs to be proof that the results prove worth.

At least 15 states have already passed legislation regarding drug testing for public assistance3. It should be noted that federal law already prohibits those with felony drug convictions from receiving welfare benefits4.

The proposed reason is simple: To save money by kicking drug users off welfare.

The problem? All evidence suggests that drug testing has not accomplished the intended goal.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, drug use among welfare recipients is substantially lower than that of the general population5:

Welfare Recipient drug use: ~2%
General population drug use: 9.4%

Below, in bold, are statistics for the states conducting their “cost-saving” programs, which provide data1,7. Non-bold states have not released data:



Spent: $499
Positive Drug tests: (0.002%)



Spent: $40,000
Positive Drug Tests: 11 (0.4%)


Spent: $5,290
Positive Drug Tests: (0.05%)

Spent: $336,297
Positive Drug Tests: 48 (0.1%)

North Carolina
Positive Drug Tests: 23 (0.3%)

Spent: $385,872
Positive Drug Tests: 297 (8.8%)

Spent: $5,295
Positive Drug Tests: (0.23%)

Spent: $64,566
Positive Drug Tests: 29 (0.3%)

West Virginia


States reported spending $850,909 on welfare drug testing in 2015, which resulted in 321 positive tests6. Additionally, an estimated $1 million was spent on the implementation of drug testing programs for temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), which resulted in 407 positive results6.

Unfortunately, it’s currently very difficult to identify exactly how much each state has saved due to a lack of reported data. Though a report from Tennessee suggests that testing expenses were double the estimated savings8.

Though the idea of kicking drug users from welfare seems righteous and moral, the fact remains that the incredibly low rates at which positive drug tests occur suggest that drug testing is a wasteful procedure that only benefits the companies contracted to complete the screenings.


1 Covert. 2015. What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients.

2 Stone. 2015. The Sham of Drug Testing For Benefits: Walker, Scott and Political Pandering.

3 National Conference of State Legislatures. 2016. Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients and Public Assistance.

4 Jaeger. 2015. Here’s What Happened When Maine Drug Tested People on Welfare.

5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2015. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs.

6 Covert. 2016. Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is a Popular New Policy that Costs States Millions. Here are the Results.

7 Snopes. 2015. Putting the Smack Down.

8 Agorist. 2015. Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Costs More Than Twice What It Saves.


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