The recent proposal to require drug-testing for those seeking family welfare benefits is a bad idea for more than one reason.
• It will cost taxpayers far more than it will save. Florida’s 2011 attempt to drug-test applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) ended with two significant results: 98 percent of the TANF applicants tested (who were mainly women and children over 12) did not use drugs, and the cost of administering the program was far greater than any hoped-for savings.
• The word “welfare” is too often used without precision, resulting in ignorant judgments about actual recipients (children, elderly, the disabled, those families living in poverty) and their worth, work ethic or lack thereof. Rep. Don Benton’s words – that aid money should go “for groceries for the kids and not for dope” – suggests that the poor and needy are more deficient in values that those with more means (such as greedy bankers and speculators, perhaps?).
• The larger civic conversation engendered by this kind of approach to poverty fuels the worst of the cruelty and the gloating over others’ misery that is destroying us as a society.
It is sad when our legislators participate in this discourse too, labeling people they do not know personally as “worthy” (we won’t test you, well-dressed professionals) and “unworthy” (you’re probably taking food out of children’s mouths) mainly because of factors related to these people’s wealth rather than character.