September 14, 2012 by David K. Sutton
Drug Testing Welfare Recipients? – When Stereotypes Infiltrate Social Policy
A cutesy looking e-card being passed around on Facebook asks:
Shouldn’t you have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check since I have to pass one to earn it for you?
Short form answer: No
Long form answer:
This question is wrong on so many levels.
The first problem is the blatant, holier than thou attitude of believing you are earning something that someone else is taking. If that’s what you think of social assistance (a safety-net) that helps keep people afloat (just barely) until they can get back on their feet then you probably will dismiss the rest of what I have to say, or you will falsely assume that I believe freeloaders should be allowed to abuse the system unmitigated. If that is what you are going to believe, there is probably little I can say that will convince you otherwise, and that’s too bad.
This question relies on an assumption that people who receive welfare are undeserving. But I ask you this — If you lose your job and collect unemployment insurance, do you assume someone else is working to give you that? Or do you instead believe you’ve paid into the system and you hope the system is there for you in your time of need? Well, the same is true of welfare. Oh yeah, did I mention that a majority of welfare recipients are children? Does that change your mind at all? It’s easy to demonize something that is out of sight, but if you met a caring mother of two children who are all on welfare, would you ask the above question to her face? And possibly an even more important, yet controversial question — When you pictured this mother and her children in your mind, what was their skin color? — Yeah, I said it.
The second problem is this question assumes that people on welfare have a higher likelihood of drug abuse than the general population. There simply is no conclusive evidence to support this. Instead, it’s something that people need to believe if they are going to cut government assistance with a clear conscience. It’s a myth.
So maybe the better question would be — Why do we need to pass a drug test to get a job?
I say — Stop assuming the worst about people, especially people who are in financial dire straits. Do you think most people choose to be on welfare? Don’t let the bad seeds set the tone of our discourse.
I’m all for checks and balances to make sure welfare (or any other government program) is not being abused, but I’m against implementing laws based on our worst qualities. I don’t want to assume the worst in people and then craft a law around it. I do not want legislation born out of stereotypes. By the way, the same can be said for voter ID laws. Prove to me that there is a problem before you pass a law to solve a problem, otherwise it’s a solution in search of a problem.
So hear me loud and clear — I’m not for giving people money without proper checks and balances, but if we are going to pass laws or enact additional requirements for any government program, it should be based on facts and evidence. We should not pass intrusive laws unless there is proof that the law actually solves a problem. I’m talking hard evidence, not gut feelings based on stereotypes. And the goal should always be a more efficient system, not punishing a faceless and nameless person.
As I stated, there is no conclusive evidence that drug abuse is a bigger problem among welfare recipients. In fact, in Florida it was found that only 2 percent of welfare recipients failed a drug test. That means the state of Florida had to reimburse everyone else who passed the mandated drug test. That sounds like a huge waste of time, money and resources. Again, it’s a solution in search of a problem. Let’s be honest, people think it sounds like a good idea to drug test welfare recipients because of preconceived notions about the kind of people who are on welfare.
I made a choice years ago that when it comes to social policy, I’m never going to support legislation crafted from stereotypes. I will not accept laws that are passed by people who assume the worst in others. I believe most people are honest. I believe most people are pulling their weight. I think life sometimes deals you a setback and I think a government of the people should be there to provide a safety net. I think we can make government work efficiently without passing laws based on cynicism. I don’t want my elected officials screwing people because they think (without facts or evidence) that those people (lumping everyone into a group) are out to abuse the system. This is not the country I want to live in. It’s not the kind of social policy I support.
I don’t think saying “fuck you” to people and taking away government assistance solves any problems. If there are not enough good paying jobs to go around and then you take away government assistance, all you are doing is putting people in an even more desperate situation. Nothing good can come of that. Yes, we should have checks and balances, but they should be based on facts, not conjecture.
Finally, if you have read this entire article and you still think I support freeloaders abusing the system, then you have obviously formulated your opinion without actually parsing what I’ve said.