This week lawmakers in South Dakota will introduce a bill which aims to make welfare applicants not only take a drug test, but pay for it too.  Under the proposed bill those applying for welfare benefits will be expected to pay $20 or $30 a pop for a drug test.  If this test is failed, the applicant will be denied cash assistance benefits. 

Past policies which endeavored to force all welfare applicants to be drug tested were deemed unconstitutional and struck down.  There are currently 13 states that drug test welfare applicants, but they’ve had to get creative.  Most require all welfare applicants to  take a questionnaire which focuses on their drug use.  Applicants are only required to take a test if they answer yes to certain questions.  Other states rely on “reasonable suspicion” of drug use, but this approach is still being tested in courts.

Still, the state representative behind South Dakota’s bill isn’t worried.  Her name is Lynne DiSanto, and she recently explained to radio station KCCR that under her bill all applicants will undergo a test.  DiSanto explained herself to the station saying, “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.  It is not that you’re being forced to submit to a drug test.  It’s elective. You have the option.” 

DiSanto and many like her who who support mandatory drug testing of welfare applicants reason that this testing will stop applicants from using taxpayer’s money to support their addiction.  However, data shows that welfare applicants are actually no more likely than the general population to use drugs. Data gathered by ThinkProgress reveals that states with existing programs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent only a small number of drug users from receiving assistance.  In fact, statistics show that applicants test positive at a lower rate than the general population.  The national drug use rate is at 9.4 percent, but according to thinkprogress.org “the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent.” 

Still, these programs have spent nearly one million dollars on efforts to drug test applicants.  Perhaps if that money had instead gone to drug treatment programs (which many states do not fully fund) we would have a better chance at helping those suffering from addiction. 

Update (Jan 29, 2016):

This bill was killed last Thursday by a legislative committee in Pierre. A member of the State Dakota Department of Social Services, Lynne Valenti, presented information to the committee showing that testing had non been cost-effective in other states. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 9-4 to defer the bill to the 41st day, thereby killing it. 


“Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace.” Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace. NCADD, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

“Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace.” Drugs and Alcohol in the Workplace. NCADD, 26 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.