Utah has spent more than $30,000 to drug test welfare applicants after it passed a new law last year. But in that time, just 12 people have tested positive for drug use, according to state figures.
Utah doesn’t randomly test applicants or require them to all undergo a drug test, but instead requires them to complete a written questionnaire that is meant to screen for drug abuse. Those who have a high probability are then given drug tests. The state spent nearly $6,000 on written tests for 4,730 applicants, 466 of which had to take a drug test, which cost more than $25,000. The law doesn’t disqualify those who test positive but instead requires them to go into a substance abuse treatment program.
Other states have turned up similar results. In Florida, just 2 percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests in 2011, compared to 8 percent of the state’s population who use illegal drugs. And while Gov. Rick Scott (R) had promised that the law would bring out savings, those will be almost negligible after administrative costs and reimbursing those who took the $30 tests. A federal appeals court rejected Florida’s law in February. In Virginia, a similar proposal failed when lawmakers determined that it would cost $1.5 million to administer and save just $229,000.
At least eight states have laws that drug test people who apply for or receive public benefits, and at least 29 new proposals have been introduced this year. Kansas became the latest to adopt such a policy when it passed a law in April. Yet many recent court rulings have blocked these laws as likely unconstitutional.