Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Drug tests for welfare recipients

I keep seeing this popping up on facebook, as a whole bunch of my friends jump on the bandwagon: Welfare recipients should be required to pass a drug test or lose their benefits.

The argument is always that wage earners have to pass a drug test to get money, so welfare recipients should, too.

Here is why I'm opposed to that:

1) It's humiliating enough to apply for help; adding more humiliation by making everyone take a drug test will keep people who need benefits from even applying. You say "not so," but I know people who refuse to apply for WIC benefits because the questions they ask are too "nosy"--drug tests are infinitely more so. And the evidence indicates that most people who are getting welfare are not on drugs, so you'd be punishing the masses (masses who are in crisis and need help already) for the problems of the few. Also, even poor people have a right to privacy and to the fourth amendment--the right to not be searched unless there is probable cause. Needing help does not mean people should have to sign away their rights.

2) While the parents are the ones who apply for benefits, the kids get the help, too. And for children of drug-addicted parents, knowing there is food coming in because of the food card is a big deal. I can't stomach punishing kids because of their parents' problems. While it's possible to commit fraud with food cards and other benefits, it's much harder than with money. If you take away the food cards, etc, from drug addicts, chances are good that their money will still be going to drugs; where are their kids going to get food at all? I know a girl whose drug-addicted mom let her starve most of her growing up years. A food card would have helped her. Kicking her mom off welfare wouldn't.

3) Even drug addicts need to eat. Do we deny food to people because they are making poor choices? I don't think so. It's not humane. Drug addicts are making bad choices, but they are people.

4) People on welfare are supervised. What better way for drug addicts to get help than to be in a system where they are supervised by people authorized to help them? Otherwise, who is watching them? Until they commit a crime, nobody.

5) If you pull out all support from drug addicts, they have no recourse but to turn to crime to get money for food and housing--and that money is more likely to go to drugs than to food and housing, after they get it. So all of society suffers if you have drug addicts turned loose with no help. It's not like taking away their welfare benefits is going to make them change for the better. What do people think they're going to accomplish by taking food away from a drug user? Is that somehow magically going to erase their addictions? Make them productive members of society? Make our cities safer for everyone? Get rid of illegal drugs? NO.

It's not that I want people who are on drugs to just live on drugs and off of society's largess (although I hardly call welfare "largess"). Just handing them food and housing doesn't motivate people to change for the better, either. Colorado proposed a law (I don't know that it passed, though) that made it so welfare applicants could be required to take a drug test, but only if the welfare office had reasonable cause--there had to be a reasonably justifiable suspicion that the person was on drugs before they could request a test.  I would be more in favor of that.

And then don't kick people with positive drug tests off of welfare; require them to do rehab instead, or put them into a program that is proven to help people get off drugs. Just sending them back out into the street is not a reasonable, humane solution.

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