Pigs Are Flying

Look out the window and check if there are any pigs flying by, because for once I agree with the loons at Watchdog.net, not that I am about to sign any petition of theirs.

Dear David Hoffman,

There are now several states where you can’t receive certain welfare benefits without firstpassing a drug test.The rhetoric fueling these new laws demonizes poor people by portraying them as drug addicts seeking to take advantage of the system.

But new research shows that welfare applicants fail drug tests at rates lower than the national average. In Tennessee, for example, only u37 out of 16,000 applicants failed drug tests. That’s less than one percent, while the national drug use rate is 9.4 percent.

States have collectively spent nearly $1 million––and are set to spend millions more––on pointless attempts to prevent drug users from receiving public support.

So why are legislators in twelve other states now trying to pass similar laws?

Tell state legislators not to require drug testing for welfare applicants!

PETITION TO STATE LEGISLATORS IN CONNECTICUT, HAWAII, IOWA, KENTUCKY, MINNESOTA, MISSISSIPPI, MONTANA, NEW YORK, OREGON, SOUTH CAROLINA, TEXAS, AND WEST VIRGINIA: Drug testing welfare applicants does nothing more than waste taxpayer money and demonize the poor! Don’t vote for legislation that would mandate drug testing for welfare applicants or recipients!

Click here to sign — it just takes a second.

Thanks,
— The folks at Watchdog.net

I agree that testing welfare applicants for drug use is mostly a waste of money, no matter how many such applicants are actually abusing drugs. If the intent is to save money, it is not clear that denying applicants benefits if they fail a drug test will save enough to make large scale testing worthwhile. Unless those who are discovered to be drug abusers are directed into some sort of drug rehab program, it is not likely that denying them benefits will help them all that much.

flying_pigs_flipped

I am not sure that the motivation behind the push to require drug testing for welfare applicants is really a desire to demonize or punish the poor. That idea seems to be based on a caricature of conservatives as misers who hate the poor. There are some conservatives who do indeed believe that people are poor because of their own personal failures, but I think that most conservatives genuinely want to help the poor as much as liberals profess to. Where conservatives and liberals disagree is, for the most part, on how best to help the poor.

Most liberals seem to believe that people are poor because our economic and social system makes them poor. The whole system is designed to benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99% and the super rich place barriers to prevent the poor from improving their lot. For minorities there is the added burden of racism or sexism or some other kind of ism that makes people helpless victims who need government action to get ahead. There is a lot of truth to this concept. If you are born poor, you will not have many of the same opportunities to get ahead as someone born into a wealthy family. You may not be able to get as good an education or take advantage of the same connections as someone else might. Liberals believe that this is unfair and unequal and the government should be involved in making sure everyone has the same sorts of opportunities.

The problem with this viewpoint is that it is simply not possible to give everyone the exact same opportunities. Some people are going to be luckier than others. A person born with a physical or mental disability is going to be disadvantaged as is someone born to abusive or irresponsible parents. People also have different skills and personality traits. A person inclined to be lazy or to make foolish choices is not going to have the same chance to get ahead as someone more industrious or shrewd. And then, how much government intervention do we really want? Does anyone really want the sort of totalitarian government that might be necessary to ensure that no one is left out.

Conservatives, for their part, tend to emphasize the role of personal choices in determining success or failure. If one chooses not to make the best of whatever opportunities come his way, engages in drug abuse, has children out of wedlock or before being able to afford them, than one is likely to remain poor, especially if one has the attitude that success is impossible because the whole system is stacked against him. Conservatives, then, tend to believe that the best way to help the poor is to help them to help themselves. They believe that the policies that liberals espouse have the effect of shielding people from the consequences of their own bad decisions and thus prevent them from learning the lessons that might help them to make better decisions. Conservatives do recognize that circumstances give some people advantages over others, but like to point out that many individuals succeed in spite of disadvantageous beginnings and believe that the best thing for government to do is not to hold such individuals back in an effort to make everyone achieve equal outcomes. So, both liberals and conservatives can accuse the other side of lacking compassion with good reason, as far as they are concerned.

I think, then, that the rationale  for requiring welfare applicants to take drug tests is that conservatives are reluctant to enable bad behavior by subsidizing it through government payments or prefer not to help people who show no signs of wanting to help themselves.

Whatever the reasons for  requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, whether good or bad, the simple fact is that such requirements do not seem to be worth the cost. As this is the case, the drug tests make for bad policy it should be discontinued.

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One Response to “Pigs Are Flying”

  1. Invisible Mikey Says:

    I’m with you that it’s a bad idea, but when given en masse, urine tests, saliva collection and breathalyzers are actually quite cheap, a cost of less than $1 per set of test materials for those administering them. Of course we charge more than that to a patient’s insurance (or employer) for performing the collections, because it takes skill to do them properly. I agree with your other objections.

    (I work in an Urgent Care where one of my duties is drug testing for local employers. I also go out to local businesses to perform random drug tests.)

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