Arizona's Policy On Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Under Scrutiny

Published: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 6:22pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 6:24pm

Arizona’s policy of drug testing the state’s welfare recipients is coming under increased scrutiny after recent figures suggest only a handful have tested positive.

In the six years since the policy was implemented, more than 170,000 residents were screened for drug testing. According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which is in charge of the program, only 41 of those screened were referred for testing, and only 20 tests were actually completed. The other 21 referrals failed to show for testing, thereby losing their benefits.

The 20 tests yielded only five positive results. Two of those cases were the result of medication legally prescribed by a doctor, leaving only three offenders.

Liz Schott is senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. She said the results — here and elsewhere — prove the policies have been ineffective.

“The numbers are very small in Arizona as they are in every place," Schott said. "It’s mostly been a waste of time and a waste of money. Both could have been spent better.”

But not everyone agrees.

Robert Doar specializes in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute and was formerly in charge of welfare policies for both the city and state of New York. He said the low positive numbers may show deterrence has worked.

“You may be changing behavior," he said. "And people may be thinking more clearly about the use of substances before or if they are also applying for public assistance.”

In 2009, Arizona became the first state to enact a law requiring welfare recipients with reasonable cause to be drug tested. The welfare drug testing program has cost the state $539 to date.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been modified to reflect the number of residents who have been drug tested.

Updated 7/29/2015 at 6:17 p.m.

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