Only 2% of Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Mandatory Drug Test
In pushing for mandatory drug testing for the state’s welfare recipients, Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor repeatedly asserted that people on welfare were more likely to use drugs than folks from more fortunate socio-economic backgrounds. The governor’s claim was dubious and smacked of the kind of discrimination against the economically disadvantaged that so characterizes our society, one in which “succeed or be damned” seems to be the national mantra. Americans still cling to the myth that anyone can be a millionaire if they just work harder, a fantasy which the owners of the country find very useful in squeezing increasing amounts of productivity from a workforce whose real wages have remained more or less flat since 1980.
In keeping with the mean spirit of demonizing the poor and blaming them for their own predicament, Governor Scott signed into law HB 353, which requires all adult recipients of federal benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) to fork over $30 that they can so afford to part with to pay for mandatory drug tests. If they come up clean, they get their thirty bucks back. If not, they lose their benefits for one year. The law is wildly popular in Florida, and other states are closely watching the Sunshine State with an eye toward enacting similar legislation within their borders. Some have already done so.
I always thought HB 353 unfairly targeted the poor. I believe that notions of drug-addicted welfare recipients are based on classist (and often racist) stereotypes and, based on personal experience (more on that later), I suspected that those on welfare were no likelier to abuse drugs than anyone else. There are multiple studies and plenty of statistics to back this up.
Now comes news that out of more than a thousand welfare applicants who have been drug-tested since the law went into effect last month, only 2% have tested positive for illicit substances. Compare that to the 8.7% of Americans over the age of 12 who use illegal drugs. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 8.13% of Floridians over age 12 use drugs.
“This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points,” Derek Newton of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which may sue over the discriminatory law, told Tampa Bay Online. “We’re not testing the population at-large that receive government money; we’re not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It’s obvious– because they’re poor.”
I don’t know a lot of welfare recipients. I do, however, know heaps of lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs and even a fair number of millionaires and multi-millionaires. And the vast majority of them use illegal drugs or have done so in the past. Heck, a doctor sold me my first batch of ecstasy when I was hard and heavy into the Hollywood scene a decade or so ago. Anyone who works in law or finance knows how rife cocaine abuse is in those fields. And let’s not even get started with entertainment business.
You may be nodding your head and thinking “yes, but those people don’t receive taxpayer money.” If so, you’re missing the point. We entrust our very lives to people who are not subject to the same type of screening that welfare recipients are. There’s something inherently unjust about that. And like Derek Newton pointed out, there are plenty of folks who do receive government dollars who aren’t subject to drug testing. College students come immediately to mind, and you don’t need to do any scientific research to know that college kids consume copious quantities of illegal drugs.
The news that only 2% of Florida welfare applicants have tested positive only confirms what I always suspected: that mandatory drug testing is as much, if not more, about America’s disdain for those less fortunate as it is about giving them the best shot at becoming self-sufficient members of society. It is, after all, far easier to vilify and blame the poor than it is to acknowledge uncomfortable truths about the causes of poverty or to take steps toward a more equitable society.
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