Random Drug Testing of TANF Recipients is Costly, Ineffective and Hurts Families

Substance abuse and addiction can interfere with parents’ ability to get and keep jobs as well as contribute to child abuse and neglect. While only a small fraction of low-income families receiving cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) suffer from these problems, addressing these issues is a legitimate goal for the TANF program. In recognition of this fact, states have developed a range of approaches to identify TANF recipients who abuse alcohol or other drugs and refer them to appropriate treatment services.

However, one approach has received disproportionate attention in recent years—mandatory drug testing for parents applying for or receiving TANF assistance. In 2013 alone, legislators in at least 30 states proposed bills related to drug screening and testing, with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance, and food assistance.1 At the federal level, there have been proposals to require all states to drug-test TANF recipients and to give states the option to test recipients of unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). Proposals for mandatory drug testing of TANF recipients raise multiple concerns.

To learn more, read the full brief.