Is Drug Testing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Applicants a Good Use of Government Funds?

  • Tinsae Gebriel The George Washington University


In March of 2017, the Arkansas State Senate voted to make permanent its two-year pilot program to screen all eligible Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants for drugs and test individuals suspected of using drugs. Proponents of the new law argue that it will deter drug use and save the state money through withheld benefits of otherwise qualified new applicants and those up for renewal that test positive and do not enter a treatment program. This paper examines the marginal cost and marginal benefit of drug testing TANF recipients to determine if it is financially valuable for the state of Arkansas.

Author Biography

Tinsae Gebriel, The George Washington University

TINSAE GEBRIEL is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate at GW’s Trachtenberg School and is concentrating in urban policy. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park with a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. She currently works at the U.S. Department of Justice, providing legal support to federal trial attorneys. Tinsae aims to use her degree to dismantle the many social barriers that disproportionately impact people of color in urban settings and to provide equitable policy solutions. In her free time, Tinsae enjoys spending time with friends, watching The Office, and volunteering at ONE DC, a local community organizing group.

The author would like to thank Managing Editor Brittany Harris and Associate Editor Matthew Pickering for their feedback, diligence, and patience throughout the editing process. She would also like to thank Professor Leah Brooks for her feedback and guidance. Lastly, the author would like to acknowledge Professor Stephanie Cellini for offering additional support and guidance on the paper.