See the opposing argument here.
There was a saying during the Great Depression that “It used to be when a man was down on his luck, he went west. Now, he goes on welfare.” Social safety-nets were instituted during that time in our history in order to give the masses suffering from a protracted economic collapse some form of relief. They were common sense measures, intended to be a type of temporary relief for a person out of work, and a triumph of FDR’s Presidency. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment relief, public assistance and other programs were intended to help the struggling American people and to give them time to get back on their feet and start working again. These programs were created during the 1930’s, before the amazing medical advances that have allowed us to live longer, before the greater standard-of-living that we now take for granted and before the war on drugs was declared.
Now, welfare has become more accepted by mainstream American society, and it has become more of a long term commitment for some. More people than ever are now dependent on government handouts in order to survive, and the workforce is slowly shrinking as people give up looking for jobs and see government assistance as the only way to put food on the table. The economic downturn and the slow “recovery” have left significant amounts of Americans in poverty and in need of assistance. These programs are necessary as social safety nets, but they were designed to be temporary, and reciprocal. This means that welfare is not intended to be a one way street. In the words of Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation, “Taxpayers should provide support to those in need; recipients, in return, should engage in responsible and constructive behavior as a condition of receiving aid.”
What this means is that welfare is a social contract between the people in need and those providing for them. If taxpayers are required to give part of their earnings to people who are in need, it would be reasonable to expect that the people receiving welfare assistance should be held to certain standards in order to ensure the temporary nature of the assistance and to lead to their quick re-entry into the workforce. Drug tests would ensure that this level of responsible behavior is upheld by those receiving assistance.
Another reason for mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients is that it is fair. People who are working have to take a drug test in order to conform to the employee standards of the company that they work for. Many companies mandate drug tests as a condition of employment. Many colleges require physicals (including drug tests) before a student begins his or her studies at that institution. The military performs drug tests. Professional sports teams perform drug tests. Throughout our lives, the vast majority of people are required to take a drug test at one time or another for various reasons, in order to ensure that they are complying with the law. Welfare recipients should be held to the same standard as everybody else in this regard.
Finally, According to Dr. Pollack of the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, psychiatric disorders (most notably depression and PTSD) are more prevalent amongst welfare recipients than drug use, though he also reports that 20% of welfare recipients admit to recent use of illicit drugs. Mandatory testing for welfare recipients, not just drug testing but also psychiatric and medical testing, could allow for those in need to receive proper medical care in order to help them with any medical conditions that they are dealing with and allow them to reenter the workforce more quickly upon recovery. Mandatory testing would not only hold welfare recipients to the same standard as everybody else, but it also would perform a critical service as a means of assistance for those suffering from psychiatric disorders, medical disorders, and/or abuse problems.
This is a very tough issue. Tensions will be high on both sides. I thoroughly respect and understand the opinion of the other side, that welfare recipients should not be subjugated to drug tests. While I respect their point of view, I humbly contend that they are wrong in this regard. In order to ensure the social contract between those being provided for and those doing the providing is not broken, each side must trust the other. Welfare recipients must trust that they will be taken care of when they need it, and those who pay for that care must trust that it is necessary and that it is, above all, temporary. Drug tests could go a long way to ensure that this social contract remains strong.
Substance Abuse Policy Research Program