Drug Testing The Poor?
Florida has recently passed a law that requires recipients of welfare to pass a drug test. The applicant pays for the cost of the test, but if they pass, they are reimbursed. Michigan is working on a similar law as well. How I wish Illinois would do the same!
The critics cried foul, and said this was unconstitutional. Further, they say it has not saved the state any money, as was originally touted as one of the upsides of the law by it’s supporters, as somewhere in the neighborhood of 96% of those who have taken the test have passed.
I’m not sure where the unconstitutional argument gets it’s legs. The challenge was based on the 4th Amendment protection against search and seizure. However, it’s not like the government is requiring all citizens give up a bodily fluid, only those who wish to be beneficiaries of government aid. Nearly every employer out there, including the Federal, State and local governments, requires drug testing as a condition of employment. If you are applying for government assistance, why should the requirements be any less stringent?
The second part of the argument is even more disturbing. It is not only misleading and misrepresentative of the facts it also completely misses the point.
Part of the intention of this legislation was to stop those who are illegal drug users from sponging off the system. If you are a drug user, you are probably unemployable due to most employers requiring drug testing to be considered a candidate for a job. You have made the choice to use substanes that are both illegal and often dangerous to the human body. Yes, you may be an addict, but you weren’t the first time you fired up a crack pipe, cooked a spoon, picked up a needle or decided to snort something up your nose. You are an addict, but the risk to become one was a chance you willingly took. You gambled and lost.
The fact upwards of 90% of those who are now receiving aid are passing the drug test has several interpretations. Perhaps those who were recreational drug users have made the choice to not use drugs in order to receive or continue to receive aid; or the vast majority are simply law abding but happen to be poor and in need of help; or, those who are habitual drug users have chosen not to take the test knowing they will fail and are foregoing government aid.
Lest anyone be concerned that there will now be legions of drug users on the streets committing even more crimes to get money not only for their drug habits but also for the basic necessities in life as a result of what is to some a Draconian law, keep in mind that if you are in need of welfare and a drug user, there are programs – free of charge – to get one off drugs. Additionally, this law is only applicable for welfare recipients. Too bad it doesn't address all forms of public aid, food stamps and public housing. If and when that becomes the reality, as I most fervently wish it would, we can have a discussion on actual crime statistics. In my opinion, at that point the answer will be to arrest those who break the law, whatever their motivations, reasonings or excuses and punish them for their infractions and offer them counseling, detox...oh wait, we already do offer those alternatives to a life of crime.
Those who are crying foul, say this program is not only discriminatory against the poor, it doesn’t save the government any money. As long as you don’t look at the fact that the number of those now receiving aid in Florida is less than it was prior to this law coming into effect, you’d have a valid argument.
This is something that will be debated for some time to come, and there will be statistics trotted out to show that the amounts being spent on aid are nearly the same as they were two years ago. There is some truth to that statement, but it doesn’t take into consideration is the cost of benefits is higher today than it was even two year ago.
All this serves as just another lesson in Caveat Emptor. Before buying into a statistic, understand what criterion was used in developing that number. In other words, know what was asked, what it was compared to, and who was doing the asking. That information will often tell you as much, if not more, than the number followed by the percentage sign.