In 2013, North Carolina passed a law requiring the drug-testing of welfare applicants and recipients who meet “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. The results are in. Of the 7,600 applicants to North Carolina’s Work First program—which provides cash aid to low-income people—only 21 tested positive for illegal drugs.
Yet Another State Drug-Tests Welfare Recipients, Finds Very Few Who Use Drugs
Other states, including Florida, Arizona and Tennessee, have tried to drug-test welfare or food stamp applicants. Similarly few people were found to have used drugs in those places.
That’s partly because, in order to skirt constitutional issues, states have to “screen” applicants to determine reasonable suspicion before they can force them to get tested. If social workers “suspect” drug use, they refer the applicant to screening. In North Carolina 89 applicants met these rigorous scientific criteria.
Civil liberties advocates have condemned the screening process many states use as arbitrary, deceptive and an invasion of personal privacy. In many states, social workers administer the SASSI (Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory) questionnaire, designed to determine the likelihood of problematic substance use—but even the psychologists who developed the test have balked at SASSI’s deployment in this way.
A handful of North Carolina residents have already had their benefits suspended or reduced, including people with kids. Applicants who test positive are required to pay for their tests and any subsequent treatment program. Each negative test costs the state $55.