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Utah Finds Few Users, No Savings By Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

Memo Pad Politics

Utah Finds Few Users, No Savings By Drug Testing Welfare Applicants


Utah’s controversial policy of drug testing welfare applicants has cost the state over $30,000 — while uncovering almost no drug users, the Associated Press reports.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the state spent $6,000 to give 4,730 welfare applicants a written test — 466 respondents “showed a likelihood of drug use,” and were then given drug tests at a total cost of over $25,000.

The outcome? Only 12 applicants tested positive — meaning that the Beehive State spent more than 30 grand to weed out .0025 percent of those seeking benefits.

The results stand in stark contrast to the predictions of drug testing supporters, most of whom claimed that the laws are examples of fiscal conservatism in action. For example, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) explained his support for Utah’s law by insisting that “it’s to insure that the federal government is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.” Similarly, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has warned that “with potentially billions of dollars of welfare funds ending up in the wrong places or being spent on illegal drugs, the least we can do is make sure that money is going where it’s actually supposed to go.” In light of Utah’s fruitless search for drug users, it seems that Vitter’s concern that billions are being wasted slightly overestimates the “crisis.”

Utah’s experience mirrors that of Florida, which passed a similar law only to discover — to lawmakers’ evident surprise — that federal benefits are not a get-rich-quick scheme for indigent drug addicts. Just 2.5 percent of the state’s welfare applicants failed drug tests as of March 2012. That rate is far lower than the 8.9 percent of the general population that illegally uses drugs, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Unsurprisingly, Florida’s program provided no direct savings — it actually cost taxpayers an additional $45,780 — before it was ruled unconstitutional by a district judge (a verdict that was unanimously upheld by a federal appeals court).

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least eight states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah — have passed laws requiring drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants, and at least 29 are considering similar legislation.

Photo: brownynlewis via Flickr.com

Henry Decker

Henry Decker was formerly the Managing Editor of The National Memo. He is currently an Online Associate at MRCampaigns.

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  1. docb August 27, 2013

    What have repub baggers NOT OVER ESTIMATED to keep their illusions alive!

  2. charleo1 August 27, 2013

    Drug testing as a prerequisite to qualify for public assistance, is not to make
    sure any benefits received are spent on food, clothing, and so on, and not
    drugs. It also has not been a money saver in any of the States where testing
    has been made part of the qualifying process. It’s also not Constitutional.
    As qualifying for public assistance, in no way establishes probable cause
    to search the individual. Then why do these Republican run States do it?
    The same reason they do a lot of the things they do. Their base likes it.
    The base also believes the overwhelming number of people on welfare
    are Black, or Hispanic. Which is provably not the case. But they believe
    what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. And they believe that is
    also their God given Right to do so, if they choose. They also like the disrespect
    involved. The extra effort required, that says, we don’t agree with the premise,
    And, we begrudge every dime. Heck, 9/10th of the thinking that formulates
    their entire political perspective, is driven by the obsessive fear that somewhere,
    somehow, there is someone getting something they don’t deserve, and I’m
    having to pay for it.

  3. Lynda Groom August 28, 2013

    They could have saved a lot of money by just asking Florida the results of their journey into this mess. Of course the opportunity of belittling the poor would be missed.

  4. disqus_fsqeoY3FsG August 28, 2013

    Another Failed Republican Fiscal Policy.

    1. mah101 August 28, 2013

      Using both “failed” and “republican fiscal policy” in the same sentence is redundant.

    2. TheSkalawag929 August 28, 2013

      I don’t know. Drug testing companies are making money.
      I wonder how many of them have ties to someone in these legislatures.

      1. johninPCFL August 28, 2013

        When Rick Scott first got into office and began braying for drug testing people asked why. It soon came out that he was a partner in a line of clinics that had been approved (by who? wink wink) to do the testing. After a few weeks of fire, he transfered his ownership to his wife. After a few months’ more controversy he sold the interest to a “friend”. I wonder how long after he leaves office the interest will still be his “friends”? (wink wink)

  5. Lovefacts August 28, 2013

    This is one of those DUH moments. We have Reagan and his welfare queens claims to thank for this attitude. Talk about a misperception. Of course the truth proved this to be a lie. Most people on aid can barely keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothing for their kids. They don’t have the luxury of spending money on drugs. I wonder when the poor working whites will start supporting candidates based upon economic/pocketbook issues and not their stand on abortion. If they don’t wake up soon, they and their families can join all the rest of ever diminishing middle class in a tent city.

    Oh, and FWIW, the government pays the landlord or management firm directly re housing support. As for food stamps, that is now provided via a card, similar to a credit card, and recharges every month, but doesn’t allow the person to receive change from their purchases. And when dealing with actual monetary aid, it’s enough to allow the parent to buy their kids clothing from a thrift store.

  6. Allan Richardson August 28, 2013

    The rationale for drug testing is “these people are getting taxpayers’ money so they should not be on drugs.” Fine, so do LEGISLATORS. Shouldn’t we drug test all candidates for public office? No (except BLACK candidates, if they could figure out how to hide their intentions), they are all upstanding citizens, not like those nasty people who get on welfare. Well, they certainly do GOVERN as if they were on some hallucinogenic drug not yet invented.

    The worst part is, the applicants for assistance, who are ALREADY poor, have to pay FULL PRICE for the tests. Even in those states that, mercifully, refund the cost of a NEGATIVE test, that is still money that has to be BORROWED, if not from a relative, then from a “payday loan” office (and how many drug testing companies ALSO own a chain of those?) at exhorbitant rates. But when voters complain about the WASTE of taxpayer funds paying for, or reimbursing for, negative tests, they change the law so that the applicant NEVER gets reimbursed. Essentially, it costs perhaps a hundred a month to get a few hundred in assistance.

    How about a constitutional amendment to require candidates for public office in Georgia (as a start) to take publicly reported drug tests, and incumbents to be tested every six months, with a positive test grounds for impeachment? Throughout the ages, leadership has meant being willing to do what you order others to do.

  7. ralphkr August 28, 2013

    I like the statement “most of whom claimed that the laws are examples of fiscal conservatism in action” from supporters of drug testing and I must agree that this is yet another prime example of the consequences of fiscal conservatism…Spend millions to save thousands. Of course the Republicans love this policy because the millions goes to their rich co-conspirators while the thousands come from the pockets of the poor.

  8. Sand_Cat August 28, 2013

    The objective was obviously humiliation and degradation, not saving money.

  9. JDavidS August 29, 2013

    Another aspersion conjured up by the right-wing loons for the sole purpose of demonizing the poor. Ronnie Raygun had his Cadillac driving “welfare queen”… the rights’ villain du jour is now the “drug-addled” welfare recipient.
    Simply following through with the RepubliCON/Tea Clown mantra of “Kick ’em while they’re down and keep ’em down”. Someone that even minimum wage red-necks can “look down” on. “See thar, sweet-cheeks? We is better ‘n them…I hates them shiftless druggie bastards.”

  10. arch725 August 29, 2013

    Vitter just needs to keep up with his prostitutes instead of trying to be a”family values” jerk.

  11. Barbara Morgan August 31, 2013

    Every state that demands people needing public assistance have to take drug test and pay for it themselves, needs to say the same thing about every state politicians and federal politicians and their staffs before they can take office or work in a office. That law should also include all governors and all the people they hire to work for them. The only difference being that the people needing public assistance do get their money back after testing drug free but not the politicians or their office staffs. If any of the politicians test positive he or she can’t take office until they go through rehab.payed for out of their pockets or by their personal insurance nor can any staff member go to work period if they test positive for drugs. What a mess that would be for the politicians and sweet revenge for all the innocent people that are being treated like criminals because they need public assistance. Does any of these politicans know that there are over the counter drugs that show a positive reading for illegal drugs as can some prescription drugs?

  12. Lisztman September 2, 2013

    Such laws don’t have to make sense. They merely have to appeal to the far-right-wing individuals — who already believe that, oh, at least 50% of their tax dollars are being wasted on stewardship of the moocher class.


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