Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Creates, Not Solves, Problems


Ohio Statehouse

If you spend enough time at the Ohio Statehouse you quickly learn bad ideas have a habit of never going away.

Such is the case with the drug-testing of welfare recipients. Legislation to accomplish this has been introduced in previous legislative sessions, but stalled for unknown reasons. Well, it’s coming once again, with a bill expected to be introduced this session.

A Good Idea?

Mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits is unfair. Courts have found that blanket testing with no reason for suspicion is unconstitutional..

To many people, regardless of ideology, these laws may seem like a good idea. After all, who’s going to defend tax dollars being used to fuel drug use or addiction?

The more skeptical among us say bills and laws of this type serve as a way for politicians to score points and to distract constituents from more relevant matters involving our lawmakers and political system.

Like past bills, it appears any new legislation would create a system to identify people suspected of using illegal drugs then testing them to confirm suspicions. If a person fails a test, their Ohio Works First benefits then will be routed to a third party until the person in question has successfully passed a drug test.

Problems From the Get-Go

There are many issues with this proposal. First, there’s no evidence of a problem so large that these steps need to be taken. In states that have similar laws, there is no indication those on welfare use or abuse drugs in any greater numbers than the rest of the population. Also, the number of those receiving benefits via Ohio Works First continues to decline by significant numbers in our state, with children making up the vast majority of recipients.

Adding to the situation, Ohio has reduced funding for drug treatment for years. Currently, demand for treatment is greater than the supply and there is no expectation that will change for the better anytime soon. It should also come as no surprise that multiple attempts at treatment are needed before people eventually rids themselves of their addictions.

This sets up an frightening scenario if this session’s bill passes—vulnerable Ohioans with suspected drug problems will be denied benefits unless they find and successfully complete dwindling and over-capacity treatment programs without any failures.

Does that sound to you like many people will be set up to fail?  It does to me.

Do you expect a similar mandate might be applied to corporate recipients of JobsOhio money? Neither do I.

The far more logical move would be for Ohio lawmakers to abandon this costly and constitutionally dubious idea and simply provide treatment for those in need. If the idea is to help people, why are tests even needed?

If someone indicates they have a problem, let’s help them without delay.

I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, bills like these seem to be a “quick fix” rather than taking on the far more complex issue of addiction and adequately funding treatment. And that’s a shame.

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