Proposals in almost twenty-five states have shed light on drug testing requirements in order to receive benefits like unemployment assistance, job training, public housing, welfare, food stamps and more.
The concerns by the proponents are that some of the governmental assistance are being misused while others decry this as an attempt at signaling out the poor. States that have already passed such requirements include: Arizona, India, Florida, and Missouri.
At the federal level, Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has introduced the Drug Free Families Act of 2011, which would require all 50 states to drug-test welfare applicants.
“Working people today work very hard to make ends meet, and it just doesn't seem fair to them that their tax dollars go to support illegal things,” said Ellen Brandom, a Republican state representative in Missouri.
So far, most proposals for change have failed to win the support needed. This is believed to be the result of concerns about the legality of such proposals.
Kimberley Davis, the director of social services for Operation Breakthrough, said the legislation sent a bad message. “All this does is perpetuate the stereotype that low-income people are lazy, shiftless drug addicts and if all they did was pick themselves up from the bootstraps then the country wouldn't be in the mess it’s in,” Ms. Davis said. Operation Breakthrough provides day care services in Kansas City to low-income women.
Several studies that date back a decade or more indicate that drug use is not solely seen in the poor. In 1996, a report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that there is no significant difference in the rate of illegal-drug use by welfare applicants and other people. Another study found that 70% of illegal-drug users between the age of 18 and 49 are employed full time.
The certainty is that many of these new policies will end up in court to see if indeed they are legal or a constitutional violation. For the time being, a few states will continue to require drug testing for welfare programs. One must ask if this is really a bad thing in the end?
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