Do I Need to Pass a Drug Test to Get Welfare?

Almost every state has, at one time or another, proposed legislation to implement drug testing for members of the Temporary Assistance for Need Families, or TANF program. However, most of that legislation was never passed. As of 2021,only 15 states require a drug test.

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Do I Need to Pass a Drug Test to Get Welfare?

Almost every state has, at one time or another, proposed legislation to implement drug testing for members of the Temporary Assistance for Need Families, or TANF program. However, most of that legislation was never passed. As of 2021,only 15 states require a drug test.


Society has long taken a dim view of those who use drugs—particularly those who are less well-off. Many people will caution you never to give money directly to the homeless, as they’ll “probably spend it on drugs.” And the idea of a stoner, sitting on their couch all day smoking pot instead of working is a prevalent one. And particularly distasteful to many people is the idea that drug users might be collecting food stamps or unemployment benefits.

Why is there so much hostility towards drug users? And do you need to pass a drug test in order to collect welfare? Here’s what you need to know.

The Case Against Drug Testing

To someone who doesn’t take drugs, the reasons for drug testing as a requirement for welfare benefits seem fairly straightforward. “Why should my tax money pay for their drug habit?” “I have to pass a drug test at my job. Shouldn’t people who aren’t working have to do the same before we give them money?”

There are several problems with this, however. Many argue that drug testing carries with it a racial bias that leads to the exclusion of more people of color from collecting benefits than it does white people. Another argument is that, if you deny drug users benefits, they aren’t the only ones who will suffer. Their children also need food, shelter, and the basic necessities of life, and taking away their benefits could mean they no longer have enough money to keep their children fed and clothed.

But there’s also a much more practical reason against drug testing welfare recipients—particularly those who are worried about their tax dollars being wasted by giving money to addicts. The cost of administering drug tests to welfare applicants actually costs more than the amount saved by denying benefits to those who test positive. It’s simply not worth the money.

Welfare and Drug Testing

Almost every state has, at one time or another, proposed legislation to implement drug testing for members of the Temporary Assistance for Need Families, or TANF program. However, most of that legislation was never passed. As of 2021, there are only 15 states that require a drug test before receiving TANF benefits. They are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • West Virginia

Not all of these states automatically drug test every applicant, however. Different states have different policies, with regards to how the tests are administered and what happens if you fail. Some will only test you if they have reason to believe you’re an addict. Some also have an appeals process that allow you to get retested if you feel your result is wrong. Some also offer treatment for those who test positive, to get clean.

The long and short of it is, even if you are a drug user, it doesn’t automatically preclude you from receiving emergency benefits from TANF and similar programs. Hopefully someday, drug testing will be eliminated entirely as a requirement for receiving aid. But until then, you do have options to make sure that you and your family don’t go hungry.