public benefits and the war on drugs

“The more hurdles you put in front of an applicant, the greater the share of people who won’t make it over all of those hurdles. People have complicated lives, and they’re in crisis.”
— Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Drug testing and access to benefits

Drug testing has been instrumental in the drug war’s mission to identify people who use drugs and to strip them of rights, freedoms, opportunities and benefits. Drug testing policies were initially designed to protect worker safety in certain professions, but have now infiltrated almost every setting outside the home.

Mandatory drug testing is routine in many schools, workplaces and hospitals, and people who test positive can be excluded from educational opportunities, fired, and denied public benefits. In recent years more than 20 states have proposed bills calling for drug testing of families receiving federal aid through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, despite the fact that this policy is fiscally, scientifically and constitutionally unsound.

Drug testing and public benefit eligibility 

Throughout the history of social assistance programs, administrators have attempted to limit access only to those families considered "worthy" of assistance. Policies about worthiness have included both judgments about need -generally tied to income, demographic characteristics, or family circumstances-and judgments about moral character, often as evidenced by behavior. Past policies evaluating moral character based on family structure have been replaced by today's policies, which focus on criminal activity, particularly drug-related criminal activity. The existing crime and drug-related restrictions were established in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, when crime rates, especially drug-related violent crime rates, were at peak levels. While crime rates have since declined, interest in expanding these policies has continued.