Photo: qmnonic, Flickr
Should recipients of food stamps be required to pass a drug test in order to receive their benefits?
Some Republican legislators in New Hampshire think so, and they've proposed a new law that would subject food-stamp recipients to random drug tests. A number of other states, such as Oregon, Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska, are considering similar laws.
No doubt, when taken at face value, these laws sound eminently reasonable. After all, thousands of U.S. workers are required to pass drug tests in order to apply for or keep their jobs.
But as a number of civil liberties and public health organizations point out, such testing relies on unproven stereotypes about people who receive public assistance and the testing can cost taxpayers more money than it saves.
Take Michigan, for example. The state passed such a law in the late 1990s. Before the law was struck down as an unconstitutional, statistics compiled from its enforcement found that only 10 percent of food-stamp recipients tested positive for illegal drugs, and only 3 percent tested positive for hard drugs like heroin. According to the ACLU, that's about the same as the rest of the population.
Then there's the cost. New Hampshire estimates that its proposed program would run between $3.3 million and $7 million a year, but there wouldn't actually be any savings to the state budget, because federal funds pay for all food-stamp benefits, according to the Nashua Telegraph.
Still, sponsors of the bill maintain the cost is worth it.
"I believe there is a benefit," Rep. James Summers told the Telegraph. "It wouldn't actually save or create revenue for the state but encourages [recipients] to be ready and able to go to work once they are off assistance."