As more Americans turn to government programs for refuge from a merciless economy, a growing number are encountering a new price of admission to the social safety net: a urine sample.
Policy makers in three dozen states this year proposed drug testing for people receiving benefits like welfare, unemployment assistance, job training, food stamps and public housing. Such laws, which proponents say ensure that tax dollars are not being misused and critics say reinforce stereotypes about the poor, have passed in states including Arizona, Indiana and Missouri.
In Florida, people receiving cash assistance through welfare have had to pay for their own drug tests since July, and enrollment has shrunk to its lowest levels since the start of the recession.The flood of proposals across the country, enabled by the strength of Republicans in many statehouses and driven by a desire to cut government spending, recall the politics of the ’80s and ’90s, when higher rates of drug abuse and references to “welfare queens” led to policies aimed at ensuring that public benefits were not spent to support addiction.
Supporters of the policies note that public assistance is meant to be transitional and that drug tests are increasingly common requirements for getting jobs.
“Working people today work very hard to make ends meet, and it just doesn’t seem fair to them that their tax dollars go to support illegal things,” said Ellen Brandom, a Republican state representative in Missouri.
Damn right. I'm one of those "working people working very hard to make ends meet" who also thinks we should start drug testing anyone who holds public office. After all, they receive "something for nothing," namely my tax dollars, right? Don't we have the right to demand politicians make water regularly? Shouldn't they have to splash their boots? Make the one o'clock appointment? Bail out the canoe? Pop a squat? See the man about a dog? (stop me, please).
Advocates for the poor say the testing policies single out and vilify victims of the recession, disputing the idea that people on public assistance are more likely to use drugs. They also warn that to the extent that testing programs were successful in blocking some people from receiving benefits, the inability to get money for basic needs would aggravate drug addictions and increase demand for treatment.But don't let a few facts or pointy heads get in the way. These kinds of split-stream proposals serve two purposes: number one, they make for good, racially-charged political capital. Drug testing them "welfare queens" gets people out of their chairs and to the polls, particularly in recessionary times when scapegoating is everywhere.
“It really speaks to how the politics of the moment are dominating the policy conversation in the virtual absence of any evidence,” said Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago whose research has indicated that people on welfare used drugs at rates similar to the general population.
And number two, these bills provide a nice chunk of public welfare (er, Keynesian stimuli) to the multimillion dollar urine collection and drug testing industries, which have actually seen their stocks rise during hard times.
Whizzle, fo shizzle.