In a huge debunking of GOP talking points aimed at welfare recipients, less than one-half percent of people who applied for public assistance in Tennessee were flagged as drug users.
A study looked at 16,000 applicants from the beginning of July to the end of the 2014, and found that a mere 37 tested positive for drugs.
Such an infinitesimal rate of drug use among welfare applicants contrasts sharply with the state’s overall 8 percent rate of drug use. Across the country, states that implement drug tests for low-income families have found that economically vulnerable people are less likely than the general population to use drugs. Utah spent $30,000 on tests that caught just 12 drug users, for a positive rate of 0.2 percent of total benefits recipients, compared to 6 percent of all state residents who use drugs. Before a judge ruled Florida’s drug testing system was illegal, it had turned up a drug use rate of just 2 percent among public assistance users, compared to 8 percent of its total population.
Other research has shown that the GOP’s stigmatizing of low income Americans is not born out by the facts. Statistics show that less than 4 percent of welfare recipients abuse drugs with the rate of casual drug use comparable to that of middle class America.
“Other physical and mental health problems are far more prevalent” among low-income people than substance abuse problems, social scientist Harold Pollack wrote in the Washington Post. “Yet these less-moralized concerns receive much less attention from legislators or the general public.”
But the idea of drug testing poor folk before doling out food money and rental assistance continues to spread despite all the evidence and expert testimony against the practice. Texas lawmakers are hoping to start mandatory drug tests for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; their law would impose a three-strikes rule for drug testing, under which anyone who tested positive a third time would be permanently ineligible for the federal aid program. Maine is launching its own drug testing system for welfare early this year. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) wants to drug test everyone who gets food stamps or jobless insurance money. Montana lawmakers have proposed a drug testing scheme this year, and El Paso County, CO has instituted a testing system.
Regardless of the data, Republicans still think drug testing low income families is a policy that is politically beneficial.