In recent years many states have considered legislation to require applicants for cash assistance under TANF to pass a chemical drug test as a condition of eligibility. As discussed in a companion brief, CLASP strongly opposes suspicionless mandatory testing as a costly, stigmatizing, and ineffective means of identifying substance abuse and believes that these bills are often motivated by stereotype and inaccurate assumptions about poor families who receive welfare. However, we recognize that substance abuse and addiction can be barriers to employment and self-sufficiency and should be appropriately addressed within the TANF program when they affect recipients.
Contrary to the perception created by the plethora of proposed legislation, states already have many options for dealing with substance abuse within TANF and are addressing with issue with approaches that are more targeted and cost-effective than suspicionless testing. These include screening for alcohol and drug abuse, incorporation of treatment into work activities, using TANF funds to pay for non-medical treatment and ancillary supports, and, where warranted, using testing to monitor compliance of specific populations, such as individuals previously convicted of drug-related crimes. Unfortunately there is a lack of systemic current information about the steps states are taking to tackle substance abuse problems. Prior research on the subject is largely made up of two separate surveys, from 1999 and 2002, as well as case studies that highlight innovative programs from the same period.
This brief aims to provide updated information on the range of state policies and highlights some of the promising approaches that states are using to address substance abuse by TANF recipients. It is based primarily on a recent CLASP-commissioned survey conducted by students at George Washington's School of Public Policy, as well as interviews they conducted with state TANF program administrators. Due to time constraints and the political controversies around drug testing, not all states were willing to respond to the survey. While the findings are not generalizable to all states, they provide a useful overview of the range of approaches that states can take. (author abstract)