On Drug Testing Public Assistance Recipients

Greetings / assalamu alaikum, the topic has come up among some of my Facebook friends regarding drug testing people who receiving various forms of public assistance, or rather people who’re receiving food stamps, cash, or Medicaid assistance. This was as a result of someone stating that Kentucky had just passed a law requiring all welfare recipients to undergo drug testing. Firstly, per Snopes and the Huffington Post, this isn’t entirely accurate, it appears that the law requiring mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients has merely been proposed and is not, as of yet, law in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

What I wanted to address, though, is why I disagree with this law. Firstly, I think it’s based on a faulty assumption, that being that a good number of welfare recipients are drug abusers, and as such, these welfare recipients are selling their food stamps to buy drugs, or, they are using their food stamps to buy groceries and then exchanging the groceries for drugs, which personally I find laughable, unless of course a drug dealer is too cheap to buy their own groceries, but anyway. According to the Huffington Post article, when Michigan tried to drug test food stamps/cash/Medicaid recipients there, out of the 258 people they tested, only 21 tested postiive for drugs and out of that 18 of them tested positive for marijuana only. But if you allow for the fact that 21 out of 258 people tested for some form of illegal substance that would come out to a little over 8% of people receiving public assistance testing positive for drugs. Is it worth it for states to spend potentially millions of dollars for people to attend drug treatment programs, especially when many states are cash-strapped and suffering budget shortfalls as it is, and especially when only a fraction of the people receiving public assistance may actually be using drugs?

The lawmaker proposing this legislation perhaps has good intentions, he states as much when he says that he just wants to get people off drugs, but surely there’s a better way to do it than threatening people’s public assistance, which for many is a lifeline. They’re not using it to buy drugs, they’re not exchanging or selling their stamps for other things, and assuming that they are doing this, which is one reason I’ve seen that people are supporting this law, then we’ve already got laws in place to deal with this, which would entail contacting one’s state fraud hotline set up to handle these kinds of issues.

If parents are supposedly not using their stamps to feed their kids and are using their benefits to get drugs (another reason I’ve seen in support of this law), then again, there are already agencies in place to deal with neglect and lack of care of kids, we don’t need more laws, which will, IMHO, make the process of obtaining and applying for public assistance that much more daunting and traumatic and embarrassing and stressful for many as it already is, as well as perhaps pushing people away from the program out of fear, when they actually could be in need of help.

However, as much as the good lawmaker may say otherwise, I don’t think it is about getting people off of drugs. This situation has echoes of the “welfare queen” phenomenon of the 1980’s written all over it, i.e., the myth that women are having kids in order to, or otherwise getting huge amounts of public assistance and thus being able to live very affluent lifestyles as a result. And while there may be a grain of truth in both the fact that some people may indeed be using their food stamps to buy drugs, and also that perhaps a miniscule amount of people were able to game the system enough to live quite well, most of this, I believe, is based on pure speculation, conjecture and fear, not to mention a good dose of prejudice about the types of people who get public assistance (mainly it is believed to be minorities and illegal immigrants), how public assistance programs actually work, the amount of money/help the public assistance programs actually provide, as well as a bit of racism, classism, etc., thrown in for good measure.

I think if people are indeed abusing drugs, other less heavy-handed and traumatic-to-the-recipient methods need to be employed, and that is all I’m saying. I also find it interesting that a Republican lawmaker is proposing something that, even though he thinks it will save the state “millions and millions”, it may actually cost the state more in the long-run. Not to mention the fact that he’s advocating for “more intrusion” of government into people’s lives, but then again, I guess less government only applies for people who aren’t getting any kind of public assistance.

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About Ginny

A blind Muslim woman currently living in Florida, just trying to make sense of the world around me! !
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