As South Dakota’s legislative session begins this week, lawmakers will introduce a bill to make everyone who applies for welfare benefits take a drug test first.
Applicants will be on the hook for the $25 or $30 test fee. And if they test positive, they would be denied cash assistance benefits.
While at least 13 states currently drug test people who apply for welfare, they have had to get more creative than simply testing anyone who applies, given that those blanket policies have been found unconstitutional and were struck down in Florida. Instead, most require applicants to take a questionnaire that asks about their drug use and do a test if they answer yes. Others rely on “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, although that approach is also being tested in the courts.
But that doesn’t seem to bother the main architect of South Dakota’s bill, state Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R), who told radio station KCCR that it will be “across the board,” with everyone undergoing a test. “I would say with just about any employer that you apply for a job with you have to submit to a drug test, and I don’t see how this is any different from that,” she told Keloland.com. “It is not that you’re being forced to submit to a drug test. It’s elective. You have the option.”
The reasoning behind the bill, in her mind, is to “ensure that people who are applying for welfare are not going to be using that money they’re receiving from the taxpayers for their drug addiction or drug use,” as she told radio state KCCR. But the data shows that people on welfare are no more likely to use drugs than the general population. Among the seven states with active welfare drug testing policies in 2015, the positive drug test rate was less than the drug use rate for the general population, with nearly all below 1 percent. There’s also no evidence that people on welfare spend any more of their tight budgets on luxuries than any other groups.
Meanwhile, these programs often waste a lot of money to uncover those small drug use rates. Seven states collectively spent $1 million on the testing, which doesn’t count any legal fees if they end up sued.
Being denied benefits gets state residents no closer to breaking any drug habits they may have. Many states don’t fully fund their drug treatment programs, so applicants who are rejected from welfare still might not be able to get a slot there. Meanwhile, being denied welfare benefits is likely to drive people deeper into poverty.