My Maine View: Should We Drug Test Welfare Recipients?

It sounds like a good idea. Let’s make sure that those folks who receive welfare benefits are not using drugs. Who can be against that? Realistically no one. The problem comes when you consider beyond the politically pleasing idea.

Let us ask ourselves some questions. If a welfare recipient tests positive for drugs what will the recourse be? Do we stop their welfare benefits right away? Or do we on the first positive test make them enter a rehabilitation treatment in order to continue getting benefits? Now please do not get me wrong, I am in favor of any and all rehab efforts but as our state government continually cuts programs how do we suppose these drug treatment programs will be paid for? Certainly our local governments can afford no more mandates from Augusta, they cannot meet the ones they are yoked under at this time. For those who suggest that we cannot and should not pay for rehab services, that those who use drugs and test positive should just lose their benefits let us consider what that means. A good portion of welfare benefits go to families with dependent children. Are we, as a society, ready to say that we are willing to have these children suffer to punish the parents? While it might be acceptable to some to say that able bodied adults on welfare, or those who use drugs on welfare, should lose their benefits this ignores the fact that many, many, children will be adversely affected.

The truth is, with this and many other simplistic slogans, the devil is in the details. It is easy as a politician to throw red meat to your political base with statements like this, the results of the implementation however rarely are quite so simple.

One could also ask themselves who receives government help in this country. Is it all welfare or should some be considered more acceptable than others. Do we drug test the executives or CEO’s of companies who receive large government bailouts? What about oil executives whose companies corporate taxes are consistently reduced by the depletion allowance that every Texas politician, Democrat or Republican, fights to the death to maintain? If these examples seem extreme how about a Senior Citizen who receives SSI benefits. Unlike Social Security which can be called an earned or paid for benefit, SSI is need based, one must meet income qualifications. Should we have a nurse come by and drug test Nana anytime soon?

While it is easy for you and I to say these are not the same thing we should understand that if we want to create, and some would say we already have, a permanent underclass laws that separate and stigmatize even further those that receive help will do just that.

The easy answer is rarely the right answer. One can say that welfare recipients should not buy a birthday cake at Shaws with their welfare money. Are we saying that a child of a welfare mother should not have the fancy Dora cake that they want for their birthday? We can criticize the stereotypical person who pays for a steak ” better than I eat ” at the store with food stamps, would we feel the same if we knew their husband been out of work and it was their twentieth wedding anniversary and she was trying to provide him with one normal night?

Drugs are a huge problem in our society. No one would argue against that point. However let us be clear. When we talk about drug testing welfare recipients we are not acting out of any large scale concern about drug use. We are doing so out of a desire to punish and stigmatize those we feel are not acting in the right way. If it were about drugs there would be a large scale outcry for more drug treatment dollars. In fact those that most endorse the idea of drug testing are those that praise and promote any cutback to social services in the budget cuts from Augusta.

Until a full plan of rehabilitation is in place to go along with these suggested drug tests lets just be sure we know what we are proposing and why.