Georgia’s governor Nathan Deal yesterday signed legislation that will require applicants for welfare to submit to drug testing and pass before they can receive benefits. The Republican majority in the Georgia legislature passed the bill for the legislation over predictable objections of Democrats.
Those who back the law, which will go into effect on July 1, 2012, believe the testing will prevent welfare recipients from using taxpayer dollars to support their drug habits, if they have them.
Opponents suggest the testing will present a further financial burden to the applicants because they will be required to pay for the testing themselves. Opponents also point out the departure from the usual Republican preference for smaller government, noting the new administrative requirements in order to enforce the law and process the test results.
I am a fiscal moderate who leans to the left normally, but who on occasion can see the right’s point. Anecdotal and other reports of welfare recipients using their food stamps as currency for purchasing drugs instead of buying food for their children are troubling to any person who pays taxes. Welfare fraud is a reality and the prevention of such fraud has so far eluded the powers that be.
According to the governor’s ga.gov web page, when Florida passed a similar law in 2010, their welfare applicant pool decreased 48% and saved the government nearly two million dollars. However, that law has been challenged on the basis of constitutional issues, and GA state Senator Vincent Fort of Atlanta has vowed to do the same as soon as the law goes into effect.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
It troubled me deeply when many employers implemented random drug testing on their employees, although I completely understand why any employer would want to mitigate the negative costs on the business that result from employee drug problems. I felt then, and still do, such testing is a serious invasion of physical and personal privacy which punishes all employees for the poor behavior and/or illness of the few.
When I worked on the Atlanta Project back in the mid 1990s, my company was partnered with a southeast Atlanta group of neighborhoods plagued with the challenges of relentless poverty and underinvestment. One of the community leaders I came to know was someone who lived in the area’s public housing and who received some level of welfare assistance. Ms. W is a dignified woman who works tirelessly to improve the lives of her neighbors and their children. I cannot imagine asking a woman like her to submit to a drug test before she can receive her benefits, nor can I imagine her submitting to such a test without a huge fight. She fights drugs and drug trafficking every day of her life.
And yet, for as many of the Ms. Ws as there are – and I know there are many – there are significant numbers of citizens who do, in fact, “work the system” for all it’s worth. And there are, without a doubt, welfare recipients who spend what little money they get on drugs, leaving their innocent children to go hungry and fall prey to the lures of easy money as drug mules for the local dealers or to predatory pimps.
So, on the surface, it would appear the new Georgia law could possibly be a good thing if it prevents parents of children who need financial assistance to survive from using the cash they receive on drugs.
But would it?
If an applicant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) flunks the drug test, the law says the applicant can designate someone else to receive the funds on behalf of his or her children for up to a year. Assuming that designated person is clean and sober, what is to prevent that person from simply handing the money over to the druggy parent?
As for the anticipated reduction in welfare applicants, presumably because drug-using adults know they won’t be able to pass the drug test, all that means is there will be a lot more children going without food and other necessities who will have even less of a chance of having their needs met, ever.
By the way, if the Republican politicians in Georgia and the other two dozen or more states pushing similar laws would agree to submit to drug-tests in order to receive the “government benefits” they collect daily, monthly and annually, I might be able to see the wisdom of this move. For now, though, poor people, a constant thorn in the sides of those who believe poverty should be almost illegal, will continue to be persecuted. Watch what happened last December when Florida’s governor was approached by a reporter from the Daily Show:
Yeah, I didn’t think so, Governor!
Once again I’ll pose the question I have yet to get answered by anyone on the right. What happens to the children of drug users who are here, whether Republicans like it or not? If they live through their childhoods, what are the chances they will grow up to be contributing members of society? If their drug addicted parents can’t get money through welfare, they will get it through other means; e.g., prostitution, armed robbery, drug trafficking and sex trafficking.
You might wonder how many people in Florida actually tested positive for drugs out of those who were tested. In August 2011 a Florida TV station learned in an investigation that out of 40 people who had been tested under the Florida law, two tested positive, with one of those two being disputed. That’s a probable 2.5%, 5% at the most.
The law of diminishing returns says it’s a waste of money, especially when the law is a “matter of principle” as described by a woman on my local news this afternoon. I’m all for making people do the right thing. I don’t want any of my tax money buying drugs for welfare recipients. But I think wholesale drug testing is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible. And, it is probably unconstitutional.
I guess it could be a lot worse, though. In Georgia, there is also a big push to have drug testing for unemployment benefits!