Drug-Testing Wastes Taxpayer Dollars

by Kevin Muir

In 2009, Arizona became the first state to establish a drug-testing system for its welfare recipients. It’s mission? Stop taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for some poor person to get potted up on weeds. 87,000 drug screenings later and a grand total of one person has failed the test, saving the state a trifling sum of $560 in benefits.

Similar programs in other states have also had extremely low rates of drug users: in Utah 12 out of 466 people–or 2.5 percent–failed their drug test. From 2011-2012 Florida used $45,780 worth of tax dollars for welfare drug-screenings, failing 108 out of the 4,086-or 2.6%-of potential recipients, a percentage that is actually lower than the 8% national drug use rate.

Before it was deemed unconstitutional by the courts, Florida’s law even insisted that poor people pay for their own drug test, no small sum when you are living on welfare. Hundreds of thousands of tax dollars later, there is little to show for the validity of these programs.

Republicans are also pushing to test recipients of food stamps, a demographic with similarly insignificant rates of drug-abuse. Looking at 2011 data from the Na­tional Survey of Drug Use and Health, 13.1% of Supple­mental Nutrition Assistance Program-or SNAP- recipi­ents reported using illicit drugs in the past month (this is excluding marijuana, and if you’re thinking it should include marijuana you’re probably a NARC), as opposed to 7.5% of non-SNAP recipients.

So sure, people getting food-stamps get high a little more often that your average American, but does a 5.6% difference really warrant spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and humiliating poor people as they try to feed their families?

This difference is further debunked by the fact that many of the factors linked to drug abuse such as domestic violence, unemployment, gang prevalence, and poor education, among others, are more likely to be concentrated in areas of high poverty. Republicans don’t want to spend the money to create a social safety net and address these issues,but yet insist on drug testing welfare recipients that are often a direct product of them, hmm.

The goal of the right here is to make sure that our tax money doesn’t subsidize someone’s drug use, however the facts fail to justify this pursuit. In fact more money is being spent ensuring drug-users don’t get ben­efits than it would cost to give those people their benefits. Stupid right? Using this logic, shouldn’t we drug test everyone that receives government money?

Did we drug test the CEOs of the banks that got bailed out? Are we handing members of the clergy little cups to pee in? What about oil and corn subsidies, they getting tested? Even politicians receive government money, and as the citizens of Toronto proper are aware, this is a demographic that is no stranger to the pipe.

No, these policies have no sound logic behind them; rather they constitute a continued effort by the right to demonize and humiliate the very poor people of our nation, which is an increasingly large slice of the population. Republicans insist that these people lack the values and work ethic that they used to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Nope, they’re just lazy, mooch­ing off our precious tax dollars and getting big ol’ welfare checks to spend on gold chains and mary jane.

I think anyone who has actually interacted with people on the lower rungs of the economic ladder knows that this is complete bullshit; they are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. I have volunteered at food banks, and in my experience the people I’ve interacted with feel shame that they must rely on someone else to feed their family. It’s some humbling shit, and anyone with similar experiences should feel anger when Republi­cans insist this is a choice poor people make to work the system.

It’s evident that there is an economic argument against drug testing for welfare recipients, and while this is definitely more sound and persuasive I also urge that we consider this as a moral dilemma. We as Americans refuse to admit that the idea of a level playing field is a myth, and that factors such as socioeconomic status, race and gender do affect our opportunities in life.

This belief is pervasive, and it manifests itself constantly in bullshit like this. The U.S. spends billions of dollars every year on foreign aid, development projects, and wars to bring democracy, freedom, and prosperity to people all over the world, but when it comes to satisfy­ing the basic needs of our citizens, better make sure they didn’t smoke the chronic last week.

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