National Alliance For Drug Endangered Children

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Drug testing welfare recipients: Recent proposals and continuing controversies

Radel, L., Joyce, K., and Wulff, C. – 2011

This issue brief discusses the topic of substance abuse among TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients, and how states address substance abuse and drug testing in this population. Substance abuse rates among TANF recipients vary from 4 to 37%. Studies showing lower percentages focus on illicit drugs, and those with higher rates include alcohol and prescription drug abuse. Many states already use substance abuse screening and assessment for TANF recipients, and refer clients to treatment. Mandatory drug testing proposals are gaining in popularity, with some states addressing the well-being of children of substance abusers by paying child benefits to a third party who ensures benefits are going to the child’s needs. Discusses the pros and cons of drug testing using various methods. An analysis of state drug testing proposals indicates that denial of benefits is a more common consequence of positive results than referral to treatment. Florida may refer children of parents who test positive to the child abuse hotline. Report states that denial of benefits could decrease child well-being, and drug testing proposals should address child well-being if benefits are denied. Appendix contains a summary of federal, state, and tribal legislation on TANF drug testing, including positive test consequences and whether or not child well-being and treatment are addressed.