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Editorial: Drug-Testing Welfare Applicants Nets Little

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March 20, 2012

An editorial in yesterday’s USA Today takes a hard look at the recent push to drug-test applicants for public assistance across the country. The verdict? “Until states can come up with a smarter way to ferret out the abusers while protecting children, the testing craze will be just another program that appeals to stereotypes in hard economic times while producing little value in the real world.”

As USA Today argues, there’s little evidence that programs to drug-test applicants and recipients of benefits are necessary — in places where these programs have been implemented, few people have tested positive. And if the goal is to save states money, they fail on that count too — states save very little compared to the upfront costs of implementing testing programs. Not to mention, these programs perpetuate the inaccurate notion that poor people use drugs more than others and single them out for unconstitutional privacy violations.

Unfortunately, despite all that, drug-testing legislation has been introduced in over 20 states. Thankfully, it looks like legislators are realizing that these bills are unnecessary, unwise and unconstitutional: two months into the legislative session, not a single one has passed.

Of course states have an interest in spending taxpayer money wisely, but legislators considering drug-testing legislation should pay attention: in these hard economic times, misguided laws stripping poor people of their constitutional rights cost us all too much.

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