Way back in what seems like an epoch ago (read: 2011) I wrote a piece about how dumb it is to drug test welfare recipients.
The piece was called Drug Testing Welfare Recipients or “Why Americans Are Dicks With The Completely Wrong Way of Looking at Drugs”, and it was about the fact that Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott, had just signed a bill into law that would require welfare recipients to take a drug test before getting any assistance. It has long been a part of the conservative mantra against welfare that many on it use their checks to buy drugs, so to conservatives everywhere, Rick Scott was a hero; I didn’t think so and I objected vociferously.
Then, of course, the bottom very famously dropped out of Scott’s plan. For a whole host of reasons — mostly that it didn’t catch enough people to justify the costs of the tests — Scott’s plan failed and failed hard. The State of Florida spent $307,000 trying to find people on welfare that were abusing it for drugs, and they found next to nothing. I think a lot of us back then figured that would be the end of the right’s attempt to further vilify the poor by insinuating they were all on drugs, but we were wrong. Since then, more deeply red states have tried it, and without a surprise to be seen, all of them have been utter busts.
Think Progress reported back in February of 2015 that the rate of success for these states ranged from .02-9.4%, but that all but one state only found a positive test in less than 1% of cases. Unequivocally, this scheme does not and will not work, and apparently the State of Tennessee missed the last five years. After about 18 months of doling out cash to see if their super-poor are on drugs, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, they haven’t turned up anything.
Again reported in Think Progress, the state has spent roughly $23,000 checking a little over 600 people’s piss for narcotics. They’ve so far caught about 65 people, and another 115 or so refused to be tested and withdrew their application for benefits. If we’re generous and give Tennessee credit for those 115 that decided not to take the test, that means the state spent $127 per person to keep them off welfare, and the average benefit for a family in the state is roughly $165. So on net they saved a whopping $38 a person per month. What an incredibly sanguine and astute use of taxpayer funds!
Of course, I’m being flippant and dismissive of the results, but I know damn-well conservatives will crow because hey, they saved a couple of twenties per dirty drug user. Forget that upper class financiers on Wall Street are still fueling their industry with sweet China White; those are good, clean, all-American white collar types. It’s those grungy moochers we have to abuse over a matter of about $40 a month. To the Republicans, the fact that they saved any money at all will be enough for them to gloat about, forgetting that to any other outside observer it looks like a callous waste of money that only serves to demagogue the lowest among us.
Maybe the most insulting aspect of this whole mess to me is the idea that it’s a connective tissue back to the War on Drugs. In a country that prides itself on “liberty,” for us to even care about what someone puts in their body is unreal to me. I get it, we all chip in for social welfare programs and no one feels great about buying someone else’s dope, but that’s just simply what’s not happening here. In case you missed it earlier in the piece, the average family receives about $165 a month from welfare programs in Tennessee. That’s not really going to last you very long with what street prices of most drugs are these days. So it’s not about money, it’s about puritanical control, and nothing more.
Just remember: Tennessee’s 10% “success rate” is far, far above the norm, too. So as bad as their numbers look to us sane people, they look even worse in other states that have tried this idiocy. It’s time, America, to stop pretending as if people on welfare are somehow less entitled to unwind, and it’s particularly time for Americans to stop pretending as if dudes that sell weed are accepting EBT as payment. Maybe the desire to keep people from becoming chemically dependent on anything is a commendable one, but clearly drug testing those who need help is a really uncharitable and wasteful means to go about it.
…or do you think Jesus should’ve had the old man drug tested before he cured his blindness too?
Follow James on Twitter @JamboSchlarmbo.