Health Policy, In the News, Substance Dependence

No assistance here: drug testing for food assistance

Illegal drug use has been a major topic of concern throughout the 21st century.  In the mid-1980s, we saw an emergence of harsh federal penalties for illegal drug users and strong war-on-drugs messaging. Today, we are seeing increased attention given to illegal opioid use as a public health concern.  While today’s efforts largely focus on helping illicit drug users overcome addiction, drug testing is now being considered as a requirement for participation in food assistance programs.

The Associated Pressed announced earlier this month that the Trump administration “is considering a plan that would allow states to require certain food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing.” These plans could require a negative drug test before receiving aid through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program which provided food assistance to over 40 million people in January 2018 alone (1). While a war-on-drugs approach has been used to criminalize individuals who suffer from addiction, states, including SC, GA, AL, and FL, have consistently ruled that drug testing as a requirement for participation in assistance programs unconstitutional. In Lebron v. Florida Department of Children and Families, the state established that the government does not have bases for suspicionless drug testing among recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and that such requirements are unconstitutional.

In my opinion, this requirement would unnecessarily portray welfare recipients as drug abusers who are undeserving of assistance. I am curious to learn more about this current administrations’ cause for the drug testing requirement. Would testing encourage drug users who need assistance to stop using drugs? Is the requirement meant to reduce federal spending? How will drug test be funded when programs such as SNAP cost over $64 billion in 2017 alone (2)? Would assistance programs offer resources to people who fail drug tests?

Reference: 1) https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/datastatistics/january-performance-report-2018.pdf

(2) https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/Reaching2015.pdf

  • Laurie Hursting

    You bring up a good point on funding for the drug testing. It also seems likely to further stigmatize those on welfare. I wonder if this would get passed.

  • Crystal

    Thanks for the post, Casey. I agree with you that we shouldn’t drug test people for food assistance. I have seen reports in the past of states attempting similar programs, and they usually spend more money on testing than they save from denying benefits. I also believe that denying people food will possibly exacerbate addictions as drug use can be a negative coping mechanism.

  • Josh Boegner

    Thanks for the well written post! I think that this is an important area to keep observing, which can be hard with how quickly headlines can change under the current administration. It is absurd that this is a priority that is even being considered, as it continues to other those who struggle with substance misuse.