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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Waste Money and Drug Test Welfare Recipients

So, here they go again -- around and around the same old mulberry bush chasing some imaginary, diabolical weasel. People seem to believe what they want to believe based on prejudices formed from rumors and hearsay. Damn the facts! Skip the research and full steam ahead!

Once again, large numbers of the American middle class seek to blame the poor for the woes of the nation. In a rush to scapegoat "those lazy welfare bums," they drink the political Kool-Aid that unfairly adds to an ever-growing stigma against the less fortunate and sincerely believe hordes of welfare applicants are on drugs.

"Six months after the rollout of a controversial law
to drug-test people applying for public benefits,
just 37 out of more than 16,000 welfare applicants failed drug tests."

(Anita Wadhwani. "Drug testing of welfare applicants yields few positives."
The Tennessean. February 08, 2015)
Though Republican lawmakers in nearly every state have proposed drug tests for recipients of government benefits in recent years, Tennessee is one of only 12 states that have followed through with a testing program. The fact is very few poor people seeking benefits actually turned out to have dirty urine.

"These latest reports that less than one quarter of one percent of Tennessee TANF applicants tested positive for drugs underscore that such testing is a waste of taxpayer money," said Hedy Weinberg, director of Tennessee's ACLU chapter.

Other states that have implemented welfare drug testing regimens haven't uncovered high levels of drug abuse either.

For example, only 2 percent of Florida's TANF applicants flunked tests in 2011.

(Arthur Delaney. "This Week In Making Poor People Pee."
The Huffington Post. August 07, 2014)

In the case of Florida, Governor Rick Scott (R) spent nearly $400,000 in taxpayer dollars defending his various drug testing schemes. The Florida government started making welfare applicants take tests to prove they weren't on drugs in 2011, only to have both programs quickly halted by federal courts on constitutional grounds.

From July through October in Florida -- the four months when testing took place -- 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the Southern Center for Human Rights. The most common reason for failure was marijuana use.

(Lizette Alvarez. "No Savings Are Found From Welfare Drug Tests."
The New York Times. April 17, 2012)

But, no matter the lack of evidence this drug testing is beneficial -- either from a health standpoint or from a financial standpoint -- an additional dozen states have already started considering similar legislation this year. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) says that legislatures are looking at proposals to drug test welfare applicants in Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

Most drug testing proposals target Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal program most closely associated with the word "welfare." Federal law gives states some leeway to screen TANF applicants for drug usage.

However, states are not permitted to make testing a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance or food stamps, which, like TANF, are federal programs administered locally by states. Food stamps, which benefit 46 million Americans, have a much larger reach than TANF, which serves 3.4 million.

Backers of the drug test laws generally base their case on anecdotes from employers who say job applicants frequently fail drug tests. They also argue that even if the drug testing costs more than it saves, preventing taxpayer dollars from supporting drug abuse is a worthy expense.

The truth is that administering the blame plays into the welfare stigma and is really all about scoring political points on the backs of the poor. Scores of politicians play the "welfare card" to gain public approval. Many voters who are eager to affirm liability for governmental waste treat recipients like suspected criminals without any evidence.

Instead of looking toward the top for injustice and wasteful spending, angry Americans who work hard for their money assume they can't get ahead because of welfare waste. They choose to look down upon the poor, who are easy targets for their ire. Throw in a little political slight of hand, and bing, bam, boom -- welfare = BAD!

Emily Badger of The Washington Post, recently reminded America of the politics of blaming the poor ...

"Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don't recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That's because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all."

(Emily Badger. "The double-standard of making the poor prove they’re worthy of government benefits." The Washington Post. April 07, 2015)

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the "submerged state." Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they're submerged.

Badger explains ...

"Mettler's research has shown that a remarkable number of people who don't think they get anything from government in fact benefit from one of these programs. This explains why we get election-season soundbites from confused voters who want policymakers to 'keep your government hands off my Medicare!' This is also what enables politicians to gin up indignation among small-government supporters who don't realize they rely on government themselves."

Drug test people on welfare? No American is less of a person because of a lack of money. No poor person in the United States of America should be subjected to submitting to different standards of judgmental equality because of poverty. Hating those needy people on welfare manifests itself in many unwarranted ways. Those who feed false beliefs strengthen the stigma against the poor.

Welfare reform in recent years has made the program’s regulations tighter than ever. In fact, people are seeing it here. In 2012, Ohio was one of three states still scrambling to meet the requirements of a federal law that requires states to get at least half of adults currently on welfare into work – or face $135 million in penalties, and to meet regulations, Ohio's welfare rolls dropped dramatically.

We should better enforce regulations already in place that have adequate provisions to deny benefits.

Besides, people should consider that failing a drug test has already put many in the welfare line without hope of securing another decent job. The ill-conceived "cure" for stopping financial woes can debilitate an income forever. A more appropriate form of revised legislation might follow the lead of Pennsylvania, where instead of revoking benefits, substance abuse treatment options are offered as an alternative.

The bureaucracy of state-administered drug testing of welfare recipients hurts the most vulnerable -- the unfortunate and their unfortunate families. The trend? Scapegoat the poor while the filthy rich enjoy the spoils. I can hear them now ... "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war."

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