Arkansas is one of thirteen states that have implemented drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and a recent report shows that in total last year, the state spent $32,000 to test just five people applying for help.
The results, in brief: About 19,000 people applied for TANF in Arkansas in 2017. Of those, 3,430 were given a survey intended to screen for drug use. And of those:
Just five were given drug tests and only two of those admittedly recent drug users tested positive. Another eight refused to take the test. Though the testing itself cost just a couple hundred dollars, with staffing costs included the cost was $32,506.65, a spokesperson told ThinkProgress — an effective cost of more than $6,500 per test.
Only a tiny fraction of those who apply for welfare are actually drug tested, because federal courts have said states can't indiscriminately subject every applicant to a test. So, Arkansas and other states employ a screening tool intended to identify likely substance abusers. Think Progress links to the two-question survey used in Arkansas.
The first asks applicants if they have used any illegal drugs in the past 30 days; the second asks if they have been denied or lost a job due to drug use in the past 30 days.
While the vast majority of applicants answer no to both questions, those who do not are subjected to testing.
Was it worth it for Arkansas to spend $30,000 just for the purpose of keeping two households away from public assistance? My guess is most conservatives would still say yes, since they tend to see any reduction in benefits as a positive. State Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) sponsored the bill to create the pilot testing program in 2015 and its permanent replacement in 2017. She argued last year that the program deserved renewal because it cost far less than originally projected. Screenings may serve as a deterrent to drug use even if the number of people taking the tests is in the single digits supporters say.