For those of you just joining me, this is the second of three posts I’m making in a series in response to this article. After reading it I wanted to write about how the stereotype of the free-loading welfare recipient is reenforced by the very type of dialogue these legislators are engaging in, and how it’s a far cry from the reality of the situation of most poor people that receive social services.
rant post today I’d like to address the part about mandatory screening tests for those on social service programs, which include not only cash aid, but also recipients who receive only food stamps or Medicaid.
Although it’s a common cry that is often heard to “test for drugs” before an individual is allowed to sign up for welfare benefits, and at first glance, this type of request seems harmless, even prudent – again, we miss the bigger picture with these types of proposals.
First and foremost, this is unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment specifically protects citizens from unreasonable and unwarranted search and seizure. This is the same reason a cop cannot search you during a routine traffic stop without cause, and why refusing to consent to a search is not (in and of itself) reasonable suspicion to conduct such a search.
The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads:
“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.”
A drug test is a type of search, a very personal and private one. It is not legally (or even morally, or ethically) considered “reasonable” to search a person solely because they are poor, and need assistance. Having little or no money is not probable cause that you are a drug user.
There is absolutely no basis to assume that because someone is struggling financially that they must therefore be using drugs. Furthermore, there is no research that shows the percentage of drug users amongst welfare recepients is any higher than the percentage found within the rest of the population.
Translation: Some people use drugs, some people don’t. It has nothing whatsoever to do with poverty levels or whether someone is on general assistance programs.
To group everyone together and force them to submit themselves to a very personal, unreasonable (illegal) search with no just or probable cause in order to receive help they are qualified to receive, just because some people in the general population break the law, is humiliating and unfair. It also further reenforces and perpetuates the stereotype that if you receive social service benefits, you are a sub-par citizen, not deserving of the same equal treatment and rights of the rest of the population.
I understand taxpayers don’t want their money to end up in the hand of someone that might potentially use it to buy illegal substances. I don’t want that either. But it is a risk that is taken with every single government employee, legislator, senator, or anyone who receives payroll from the government, or who is subsidized with government grants or programs.
We do not force congress and the senate to submit themselves to drug testing before they are paid. We do not make sure college students are drug-tested before they qualify for a government student loan or grant. Farmers do not have to pee in a cup before they can receive a subsidy for their crops.
It is exactly the same. Because there’s no probable cause or reasonable suspicion, even though a certain percentage of all of those groups are (statistically) invariably guilty of some type of illicit drug use as well, as stated before, this is true of the entire population – regardless of income levels or job position. Drug users exist in society across the board, and their existence alone is not sufficient reason to suspect everyone is guilty.
This is why federal courts have blocked similar laws in the past that various states have passed, (most notably Michigan in 2003 and Florida in 2011) due to their violation of constitutional protections.
This entire argument is all based solely on the fact that such drug testing is unconstitutional, without even getting into the murky areas of the fairness of innocent children being potentially denied or delayed access to benefits if a parent fails (or refuses to take) a test.
Finally: “Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, has introduced a bill to require Medicaid recipients to submit to random nicotine testing.”
This doesn’t just have to do with the right to purchase, as I addressed yesterday, but the right to use an item. It would also prohibit the various forms a substance could be used in by making it restricted completely for certain people.
You can’t have special rules for the poor that don’t apply to the rest of the citizenry. They’re now going to prohibit citizens from partaking in a product that is legal to purchase by an adult?
And here’s the kicker on this one, not because it’s a waste of taxpayer money if a recipient chooses to use income to purchase tobacco products, but because “tobacco-related diseases cost the state $264 million each year in direct Medicaid costs.” So, if a person has no health coverage whatsoever, not even Medicaid, that will somehow cost the state less when they have to treat that person anyway?
What about people who are quitting smoking but are using nicotine patches or gum? They’ll still have nicotine in their system. How can you possibly differentiate this through random nicotine testing?
Again (going back to other government employees) what about the armed forces, congress, the senate, and all other government employees that receive health insurance provided by the government… Will they all be forced to quit smoking and submit to nicotine testing as well to avoid paying their “tobacco-related” health care costs?
Why do all the justifications and excuses the legislators use to attempt to explain these proposals and bills only apply to the poor on social services?
Soon they will be proposing no Medicaid coverage for the overweight, due to the high costs of treating obesity-related illnesses. (Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure we spend just as much money on in healthcare costs in this nation.)
Where does it stop?
Pundits and politicians and certain factions of the media often want to shift the public focus to welfare, as if this is the only place where tax dollars are used. Your money isn’t taken from you and given to the poor like Robin Hood, and the poor don’t get nearly as much as you think they do, and certainly don’t have extra to waste. Far more tax payer money is used and spent on so many other aspects of government than welfare, and there’s so little room to trim in an already extremely underfunded system, that I can’t understand why this one use of funds receives so much resentment and attention. Is it really that horrible to spend a little money on keeping your fellow man alive within your own country compared to the massive amounts we spend to wage war elsewhere in the world? or the huge bail outs we give to Wall Street and the large financial institutions? How about random drug and nicotine testing for all the geniuses that caused this economic meltdown to begin with?
Are the poor really the ones we should be upset with for “wasting” tax dollars?