Drug-testing welfare recipients a violation of conservative beliefs

Poor people are useful during a political season.

Political candidates position them as distractions from the myriad problems for which they propose no workable solutions: Is the federal treasury awash in red ink? Are there too many demands on a shrinking government purse? Then, let’s tighten up on largess for the very poor.

Never mind that the impoverished barely make a dent in federal spending. Middle-class voters are eager to hear proposals that point the figure elsewhere — away from the entitlement programs, such as Medicare, which have a large constituency among the well-heeled.

After all, voters, like political candidates, find it useful to point fingers at the less fortunate. The impoverished serve to remind the rest of us of our obvious moral superiority, of our wise choices, of our supreme good judgment in not being born poor.

That’s why the current season has brought another round of the faddish insistence on mandatory drug tests for recipients of traditional welfare. The tests, which have been tried in handful of states, serve the purpose of standing in for policies that might actually reduce spending or improve government efficiency or  even improve the lives of the impoverished.

Mandatory drug tests do none of those things. There is absolutely no data to suggest that welfare recipients are overwhelmingly crack- or meth-heads. Statistics from Florida, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year mandating such tests, are revealing.

According to research from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has opposed the law in court, only 108 of the 4,086 who took the test failed. That’s two and a half percent, folks — a far smaller percentage of drug users than among the general population. (According to last year’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the federal government, ten percent of Americans reported regularly using illegal drugs.)

 

Instead, those proposals create new problems. They are costly since states must set aside money to fund drug tests. They are also likely to be unconstitutional, violating principles against unreasonable search and seizure.

You’d think that conservative policymakers — those who claim to adhere strictly to the mandates of the U.S. Constitution, those who insist that an overweening government is the single greatest threat to our democracy — wouldn’t want anything to do with these measures. You’d be wrong.

 

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Comments

  1. Shane Harris says:

    Hi Cynthia,
    I wish politicians would speak more often (or at all) about reforming the way programs operate, so that they can become more efficient and run more smoothly. I rarely here about reform in Washington; it’s either cut taxes or raise taxes. It’s kind of a joke. I run a small business in Los Angeles and I’m baffled by the way things are handled in D.C. I’ve spent many hours at the housing department in LA and it’s one of the most outdated entities I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s like stepping back in time when go in there. The computers are outdated, each cubicle has piles and piles of paperwork stacked on the desk, and the wait time is very long. I’m confident that there are simple things that could be done to improve efficiency there, and save a lot of money. But for some reason that is beyond me, things seem to get backed up further and further every time I go in there. I see many govt institutions that are run this way, and I’m struggling to understand why.
    Anyway, I have a few things to say about your article here:
    1. You’d be wrong if you thought Scott Walker was the Governor of Florida.
    2. That’s 108 people who now have another incentive to get off of drugs
    3. “They are also likely to be unconstitutional, violating principles against unreasonable search and seizure.” That’s a serious stretch. What basis do you have for making such a claim?

    Thanks,
    Shane

  2. Fletcher Trice says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article. Thank you! As this issue has been a bit of a stickler with me, but from a different point of view in one way. Because I work in the industry where I do, the requirement for drug / alcohol testing has become rather old hat over my past 28 years. I have to take the tests regularly and am always subject to random testing.

    So now when I am laid off from a nuclear plant I may have to submit to another pointless drug test. So what, in one way. But, the unsubstantiated political ploy of requiring me to retest for unemployment compensation irritate to the point of focusing on only one thing. The governor of my state and all the members of state legislative bodies that pass such a sham should ALL BE ON THE SAME DRUG TESTING PROGRAM I HAVE LIVED WITH FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS. And they should be required to keep taking the drug tests AS LONG AS THEY CONTINUE TO GET LIFETIME COMPENSATION AND INSURANCE. Please feel free to expand upon this elsewhere!

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