America is caught up in Drug Testing Fever! That’s the answer to all our drug-related problems, you see. Simply require everyone to submit a cup of urine in order to participate every activity imaginable. Then people who use drugs won’t use them anymore and all our activities will be free from drug users! Who, we suppose, will just go quietly about taking drugs during their activity-free days and not bothering the rest of us.
First stop on our whirlwind tour: Georgia, where the governor Nathan Deal just signed a law to drug test parents who seek welfare assistance.
The new law requires parents who apply for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to pay for and pass a drug test that would cost at least $17. TANF provides temporary financial help to low-income families with children. Passing the drug test once would be a condition of eligibility to receive benefits.
Now according to Georgia’s 2003 TANF fact sheet, the average cash payout on TANF is $250/month and the maximum is $280, assuming a single mom raising two kids. She can only get this TANF benefit if her gross monthly income is below $784. There is a lifetime limit of four years to receive TANF payments and a component of getting TANF is participation in a “work activity” where she’d probably be drug tested anyway. According to this Georgia State Plan FFY 2009 Changes document:
A work eligible individual is expected to participate in work activities immediately after having been approved for cash assistance. … The only exemption to the work requirement is that a single custodial parent can choose to be exempt from these work requirements if there is a child in the home under twelve months of age.
Now here’s the part Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t want fiscally conservative Georgia voters to know about: The State of Georgia will be reimbursing the TANF recipients who paid for and passed their $17 drug test, which, by the way, actually costs about $30. It will cost more taxpayer dollars to drug test welfare recipients than taxpayer dollars saved withholding the TANF money a single mom uses to feed her two kids when she’s scraping by on $784 a month!
On average, about 3,896 adult Georgians received TANF benefits each month in 2011. … Benefits generally fall into a range from $200 to $700. If we assumed that, like Florida, two percent of TANF beneficiaries tested positive for drugs, nearly eighty Georgians applying for TANF would be denied for at least a month until they could retest positive. In monthly savings, this would probably come out somewhere between $16,000 and $56,000 a month. …
However, the cost of testing TANF recipients every month should also be factored into the equation. … If all 3,896 potential TANF recipients were drug tested, and only 80 tested positive, the net monthly cost to taxpayers of reimbursing those who passed the drug tests would be about $114,480, nearly double the monthly savings. This does not take into account the cost of state employees to administer the drug tests, the potential costs to the state of rehabilitating drug users who hope to be able to reapply for benefits, and the increased bureaucratic costs of expanding the Department of Human Services in this manner.
Next stop, Iowa, where Republican state senator Mark Chelgren has a debate pending on a similar measure to require single moms to pee in a cup in order to feed their children. But that wasn’t enough for Chelgren, who just introduced a new drug testing for child support measure in the Iowa Legislature.
Iowa parents who receive child support on behalf of their kids would be required to submit to drug tests as frequently as every six months under a controversial amendment to a budget bill that was laughed at and ultimately withdrawn today in the Senate.
The proposal came from Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa who said he was pushing the idea on behalf of an unidentified constituent who believed his ex was using child support money for illegal drugs.
Well, what else might the ex have been using child support money for? Dinner and drinks? A new outfit? Movie tickets? By God, we ought to create Child Support Debit Cards, where the non-custodial parent loads up funds and the custodial parent can then use the card for shopping for the kids. Whenever the card is swiped, a text message is sent to the non-custodial parent, who can then approve or deny the purchase with a handy smartphone app! Yes, lets give vindictive exes battling over child support the extra threat of drug testing to hold over their child’s custodial parent’s head, that’ll help.
All these “drug testing for benefits” laws come down to public concern that the recipient may be “spending money on illegal drugs”. Yet I see people using assistance money to buy overpriced sugared breakfast cereal for their kids, a six-pack of beer for themselves, and a couple of lottery tickets… where’s the outrage there? Either we grant people assistance to do with as they see fit or we purchase them into involuntary servitude to one degree or another. If we wish to dictate that taxpayer dollars for family assistance only be spent on healthcare, education, nutrition, and other things that directly benefit the children, why don’t we just subsidize that directly with public option healthcare, better-funded schools, and public soup kitchens, instead of trying to micro-manage and incentivize and punish welfare recipients to spend it on those things?
But it’s not just adults who might be misspending the taxpayer’s dollar. It’s also those kids attending our taxpayer-funded public schools who might want to be on the football team, the school newspaper, or the Honor Society who must submit their cup of urine to participate.
Students who wish to participate in a school activity must consent in writing, along with the parent or guardian, to drug testing. The consent will be binding for the remainder of the school year, unless rescinded by the adult.
David Woolly, superintendent of Alma School District, told board members that the testing was not intended to “catch” students using drugs, but instead to prevent usage in the first place.
Law prevents the school from testing every student without cause, but does allow for testing of those kids that participate in extra-curricular activities. Board member Ron Haught asked Woolly during the meeting about the number of students that would be affected by the policy.
“Because of the high number of students we have that participate in activities, practically all students will be affected,” Woolly answered.
Oh, the drug testing is for the students’ own good, to prevent them and not to “catch” them. So, how well does that work? According to this most recent study of the practice, it is not only not working, but may be exacerbating drug problems for some teens.
Thanks to a study recently published online in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, those drug-testing supporters may need to develop a new party line.
Male students reported no less recent use of alcohol, marijuana, or cigarettes, regardless of whether their schools conducted drug testing, according to the study.
In schools where students and adults respect each other and where the rules of the school are clearly enforced, drug testing did appear to deter female students from using drugs. Male students were also slightly less likely to use drugs at schools with positive environments, according to the study.
However, there’s one very large caveat: At schools with negative climates that also drug test students, girls may be using more drugs than at schools with similar climates that don’t drug test. Therefore, drug testing may actually be counterproductive in schools with negative climates, the authors suggest.
The Supreme Court has twice ruled in favor of drug testing students involved in extracurricular activities, in the 1995 Acton v. Vernonia School District 47J case and the 2002 Board of Ed. of Independent School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie Cty. v. Earls ruling. This has led to such absurdities as an 11-year-old girl suing her school district for the right to play viola in the middle school orchestra without supplying a cup of pee, which she’ll likely lose based on the precedents I just listed.
So what you get with these school drug testing policies are:
- Kids who don’t do drugs who resent you for implying they are a “druggie” when they try out for extracurriculars;
- Kids who don’t do drugs but become one of those occasional false positives when they try out for extracurriculars, who then become accused of being liars as well as “druggies”;
- Kids who do use marijuana who find a way to cheat the test when they try out for extracurriculars, who other kids on the team will learn drug test cheating measures from;
- Kids who do use marijuana who get caught by the test when they try out for extracurriculars, which brands them a “druggie”;
- Kids who do use marijuana who realize it’s the worst drug for drug testing and switch to alcohol, inhalants, synthetics, and other drugs that flush from the system more quickly;
- Kids who do use marijuana or drugs who don’t bother to try out for extracurriculars (something we do know helps keep them away from drugs).
How do we get to this place where America has gone from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the land of the pee from the government slave? In large part because we never heeded the Pastor Neimoller poem and assumed drug testing was a great thing when it was proposed for airline pilots, train conductors, and long-haul truckers. ”It’s a safety position,” we were told, “and we can sacrifice some of our essential liberty, in fact, our very bodily integrity, in exchange for a little temporary security.” Soon, we got to the point where any position could be drug-tested for on the assertion of “workplace safety”. Now, well-meaning people are defending the intrusion of privacy on the poor because they face that same intrusion of privacy themselves. Here in this letter to the editor of a New Mexico paper is the “Well, I gotta drug test, why shouldn’t you?!?” defense laid bare:
There are some occupations for which strict drug testing should be mandatory. If I’m traveling by air or going under the knife, I want to be absolutely certain that the pilot or surgeon is sober and clear-headed. But, if the dishwasher at my favorite restaurant wants to take a different kind of smoke break after work, I’m can’t see how that impacts me or his employer.
My misgivings aside, most employers have instituted mandatory drug-testing policies for new employees. That being the case, shouldn’t we also have drug testing for those on government assistance? After all, the goal of those programs is to transfer people from welfare to work. And, for better or worse, you can’t get hired these days if you can’t pass a drug test.
Opponents of the bills maintain they are a violation of privacy, and treat the poor as if they are criminals. Perhaps. But, aren’t all job seekers treated the same way? Why should those on public assistance be given protections that those seeking work are not?
So this writer, who clearly can see the dishwasher smoking a doobie after work is harming nobody, just puts aside his misgivings about that and accepts it and wishes to further the privacy violation by extending it to the poor. Let’s not fight to see that none of us are violated, let’s fight to see that all of us are violated equally!
Yes, America is caught up in Drug Testing Fever. Unfortunately for the American economy, such a fever does come with some nasty symptoms, like under-employment of talented labor and employment shortages for skilled labor.
Annie Short, grant coordinator for Healthiest Manitowoc County 2020, said based on discussions with employers, some are seeing as many as half of potential employees fail the drug test, preventing them from being hired.
The problem is statewide, not confined to local employers.
Jim Morgan, president of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation, said the long-term concern in manufacturing is a shortage of skilled workers. So when potential hires fail drug tests, it’s concerning.
Morgan said compared to 15 years ago, more companies are doing drug testing.
And this is why you’re seeing the push from business lobbies to expand drug testing for welfare and unemployment laws. They figure that if the unemployed are drug tested, they’ll stop using drugs, and then they’ll be able to pass the employment drug testing. The irony is that people receiving state assistance are among the groups with the lowest rates of drug use. When Florida attempted this drug-test-for-welfare for four months, before a judge found it unconstitutional, they had only 32 failed drug tests out of 7,062 tests given.
Florida’s drug-test-for-welfare supporters claim aha! you’re not figuring in the 1,597 who refused to take drug tests, so we didn’t have to pay their welfare! OK, so how should I feel about the children of 1,597 parents not receiving any extra government assistance when they already live below the poverty line? Sorry, but a statistic that claims “less people on welfare” doesn’t equate to “less people in need of assistance”. Besides, we still find in studies that TANF recipients test positive at a 5% rate compared to 8% for the general population. In Indiana, just 2% of the job training applicants tested positive for drugs.
I don’t feel an ounce of pity for any business who is having trouble filling positions because of their drug testing program. You wanted a “drug-free workplace”? Fine, you may also end up with an “employee-free workplace”. Those of us who use drugs (mostly marijuana) will just work elsewhere or for ourselves or continue being dependent on welfare, and if you kick some of us off welfare, we’ll just be homeless and begging and uneducated and commit crimes to survive and you’ll pay for much greater social costs because of that than if you’d just let people alone if they want to smoke a joint.