By Linda Wolf,WWH – There’s been a lot of talk recently about drug testing welfare recipients. A couple states already have laws and other states have proposals to change the law on drug testing for ‘welfare recipients’. Some of the states include Ohio, Rhode Island, and Illinois to name a few. We all know that Florida already passed a similar law. Sounds like a great idea, huh? As a hard working American the last thing we want to do is help the underprivileged by supporting their drug habit, right? Let’s look at the facts and throw out all the useless rhetoric that you’ve heard.
Welfare is defined as ‘a financial or other assistance to an individual or family from a city, state, or national government.’ This includes assistance in food, housing, child care, unemployment and job training assistance.
Who exactly are ‘welfare recipients’? Most follow former President Ronald Reagan’s outdated statement of a black ‘welfare queen’. This mythical ‘queen’ supposedly had numerous children from a variety of fathers while collecting thousands of dollars from the state and federal government. To date, no one has ever been able to track down this ‘so called’ queen. The truth is most welfare recipients are not black.
In 1996, The Welfare Reform Act changed ‘welfare’. Gasp! Those people actually had to go out and get jobs!
Flash forward to present day. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS) Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, Florida, Michigan and Nevada have some of the highest unemployment rates. These same states are vying for drug testing welfare recipients. Imagine that. It should come as no surprise that most of the time, a Republican sponsored the drug testing bill.
The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) shows the national unemployment rate of about 9% does not include ‘underutilized’ workers. What are underutilized workers? Unemployed people seeking full time work, someone who has been unemployed for a long time and has given up hope of finding any work or someone who wants a full time job but has to take a part time one just to survive. The BLS also shows the unemployment rate is rising for the non college educated people over college graduates holding a Bachelor degree or higher. Further, the unemployment rate for blacks has declined 15%. So, who exactly are we testing? The unemployed? It’s not their fault they lost their job due to ‘corporate greed’.
I’ve heard people say they get drug tested at work so everyone else should be too. How many of us are really drug tested? Industrial or factory workers, viewed by society as uneducated. The new trend is for less drug testing of employees. Some of the reasons include ‘false positives’ and the high cost because few employees tested positive.
The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), which was backed by the Republican party in the past, is our nation’s guardian of liberty. The ACLU protects the rights that our constitution founded. They work ‘daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country’. (emphasis added) These rights are a guarantee of our First Amendment – the right for free speech, association and assembly; freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Our other rights: equal protection under the law; protection against unlawful discrimination; your right to due process (fair treatment by the government whenever the loss of your liberty or property is at stake); Your right to privacy – freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into your personal and private affairs. The ACLU has stated that ‘70% of all illicit drug users (and presumably a much higher percentage of alcohol users) ages 18-49, are employed full time.’
Let’s delve deeper.
CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) stated: ‘Proposals for mandatory drug testing of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients are based on stereotypes and not evidence.’ It further stated proponents for drug testing are ‘based on a false assumption that many applicants will be denied benefits.’ Before Michigan stopped its policy, they found of the percentage of welfare recipients that tested positive for illicit drugs, only 3% tested positive for ‘hard’ drugs like cocaine. These rates are in line with drug use of general population. The ACLU has also stated that marijuana stays in the body longer than more dangerous drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.
OSHA, (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation. OSHA has stated: “A comprehensive drug free workforce includes a policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance, and drug testing. Such programs, especially when drug testing is included must be reasonable and take into consideration employee rights to privacy.” (emphasis added) The late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said the ‘right to be left alone is the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” Drug testing welfare recipients does not take into consideration their right to privacy. Another reason drug tests discriminate is because they show past use done on the employees own time and not their current state.
Recently, Florida has stopped testing recipients because federal Judge Mary Scriven ruled it may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures. This was in a case where a 35 year old Navy veteran and single father who applied while he was finishing his college degree refused to take the test and in turn, filed a lawsuit. Before the testing was halted, less than 10% actually tested positive! So far, there have been no statistics on how much all this testing has cost the taxpayers.
Michigan’s drug testing law was ruled unconstitutional and had to change their policy. The lawmakers removed language from welfare reform legislation this spring. Michigan now requires the state to test recipients for substance abuse if a reasonable suspicion of abuse exists. (emphasis added). Seems that just being unemployed and broke is not reason enough to test.
Has anyone really stopped to think? Who can afford drugs? A recent ‘Yahoo’ article stated that most of the ‘Unemployed No Longer Receive Benefits”. It states that last year ‘75% were receiving unemployment checks. The figure is now 48%. Nearly one-third of Americans 14 billion unemployed have had no job for a year a more.’ The cost of an ounce of marijuana can run anywhere from $150 to $500. A gram of cocaine can cost upwards of $400. Who has the money for illegal drugs? Further, what about the abuse of prescription drugs? Because the drug is ‘legal‘ does that make it ok?
Lastly, who will we be hurt by drug testing welfare recipients? Children. Representative Marcia Fudge in Ohio recently found out that nearly half of food stamp recipients (SNAP) have children under 18. Statistics have shown that over 33% of drug tests are false positive! So, why should children suffer because their parents can’t find a job and through no fault of their own, collect any assistance?
Before we rubber stamp drug testing welfare recipients, let’s look at the facts. It’s an invasion of privacy for outdated thinking, the states will lose money and the unemployed poor and their children will suffer. Seems to me the facts outweigh the rhetoric.