Drug Testing Welfare Recipients: Reason #316 On Why I Won’t Vote Republican In 2012.

In May of 2012 I achieved 10 years of sobriety from the horrendous drug that is crystal methamphetamine.   I am thankful for everyday that I have given myself and my family without the influence of that terrible soul sucking drug.  I am proud for the journey that I chose to make toward sobriety, my commitment to it, and my success with it.

I would do anything to help another addict rescue themselves, and subscribe to the belief that one must hit rock bottom before they’ll choose sobriety.  That being said, I simply cannot bring myself to say that I accomplished sobriety by myself, or solely out of skill.  In fact, what I would say is that I accomplished sobriety because I am lucky, not skillful.  I am lucky that when I asked for a hand up, it was given without question and in that, I am lucky to have had a fighting chance.

With these thoughts in mind, with the memories of what I was willing to pawn, and who I was willing to hurt fresh in my mind, I admit that it is difficult for me to find any justification for judging or treating another person with addiction punitively.  It is with this knee-jerk reaction that I wish to kick the idea of drug testing welfare recipients to the curb without second thought.


Unfortunately, the lack of giving things a second thought seems to be how multiple pieces of legislation that would require people seeking public assistance to submit to and pass a drug test first came into existence.  Most of these bills are so outlandish that even some die-hard republicans have trouble going along with them.  One Wyoming legislator, Republican Senator Bill Landen, described a measure which would have tested all Wyoming welfare applicants, as a “coffee shop bill” – a bill developed in response to an idea cooked up by people sitting around talking with little reliance on evidence.  Apparently, the Wyoming senate agreed with him, the bill was killed in the senate last week with a vote of 17-13 after arguing about its cost and constitutionality.

Still, states like Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Colorado and Maryland, are considering bills of the same nature with unfaltering enthusiasm.  In Colorado, Representative Jerry Sonnenberg is not only asking that welfare applicants take and pass a drug test before they can receive aid; he wants them to pay for the tests themselves.  This not only shows a complete lack of empathy for the suffering of others, it also shows a lack of understanding of what poverty is.  Obviously a person who needs welfare doesn’t have any money to subsidize a state’s desire to discriminate and persecute poor people.

When I say discrimination that is just what I mean.  I cannot think of a better term for hounding an entire group of people with such zealousness, and with so little cause.  It is important to recognize that the people who receive welfare are usually an incredibly small population of mostly young single mothers, children, and grandparents acting as caretakers for their grandchildren.

These are obviously the weakest and most destitute amongst us, but they are also statistically the least likely to use drugs.  Young, pregnant and nursing mothers are unlikely to use.  Grandparents are unlikely to use.  Children are unlikely to use.  Still, when questioned about the morality of randomly drug testing a grandmother seeking welfare assistance for her grandchildren, one Wyoming lawmaker commented, “If granny’s number is up, it’s up.”  When is the GOP going to understand that this kind of indifference for their voters, or for humanity as a whole, is simply unacceptable?

It has been repeated more than once, that these bills are not punitive bills designed to scare people away from applying for welfare, or punish them for needing assistance.  Supposedly, they are intended to find good people who need a hand in overcoming drug addiction and help them, as well as to protect children of drug addicts from neglect.  In Wyoming, Texas and Georgia, lawmakers conceded that the programs that drug tested for welfare would likely be similar to Florida’s in that they would cost more than they saved, but many legislators claimed that the cost was worth the benefit of helping addicted welfare applicants.

I, for one, am not impressed by these noble claims.  Let’s ignore the fact that these drug tests are a marijuana trap, and nothing more.  Alcohol and other drugs leave the system quickly enough that one only has to go a day, or two, without drugs to pass a test.  It is difficult to imagine children who actually need protected being helped by a system so easily circumnavigated by the most dangerous offenders.   But let us set that aside, and assume that these tests actually “catch” the drug addicts legislators seem so concerned about.

How on earth are these bills supposed to help anyone?  After reading several of them, I am at a loss for an answer.  There have been no provisions for providing treatment, or funds for treatment, mental healthcare, or even a drug and alcohol evaluations by professionals.  There aren’t provisions for removing children from dangerous situations, or helping the Grandma who cares for them while Mommy is away at treatment.  This isn’t helping anyone.   Not offering treatment and other forms of social support with the test just seems to make the whole process nothing but a punitive exercise in keeping the poor addicts just that, poor and addicted

One bill was written such that social workers will be instructed to respond to individuals who come into a social services office asking for help by “advising the individual that the required drug testing may be avoided if the individual does not apply for benefits.”  In other words, when a person walks into a welfare office and says, “I need help,” the official response will be, “Sure, but first we want 20 bucks for a drug test, all your dignity, and your 4thamendment rights.”

There is one clause in several bills attempts to mitigate this shameful experience, but comes off as more of a cruel joke than anything else.  An example is in Wyoming’s H.B. 82, page 4 where social workers are directed to “Assure each individual to be tested a reasonable degree of dignity while producing and submitting a sample for drug testing”  Really?  How?

I once had to give a urine sample to a DFS worker in the state of Washington who demanded it in exchange for my family’s food stamps after I admitted that I had used 7 years prior to my application.  I had to pee into a cup in a room with no doors or walls around the toilet, with a criminal probation officer watching.  I did so with tears of shame streaming down my face, as I protested that I was a mother and a student… NOT A CRIMINAL.  I can assure anyone with any doubt, there can be no dignity in a bathroom with an audience.

I have tried very hard to find a valid reason for the republicans to present such disgusting bills for legislation.  I have tried very hard to ignore my experiences with addiction and poverty, and to admit that I am seeing this from a very personal perspective.  I have tried to force myself to see the other points of view… and I have come to a conclusion.

There is only one reason to present these bills right now, and it has got not one thing to do with compassion for poor people, desire to rescue addicts or children, or fiscal responsibility.  It has everything to do with the aspirations of the Republican Party in November of 2012.

I don’t think that some of these representatives even care if these bills are passed into law; they  just want them to be a talking points for their favorite GOP candidates, with people on FOX news and MSNBC sitting around turning purple and shouting about all of the things I have just said until we’ve all heard Obama and Romney and Gingrich and Santorum’s names another five hundred times and we begin to doubt the things we all know to be true about welfare, addiction and poverty.

Let’s not play this game.  Let’s admit that we know that this is foolish at best, bureaucratic in reality, and has far too many crevices for cruelty to be anything but a sound bite for the GOP.

You see, where I come from here in Wyoming, we understand that at any given point in time a person can fail desperately at survival.   Perhaps that is why I’ve never in my life met a decent person who would look another person who is suffering in the eye and walk by without offering a helping hand.

These bills are about more than discrimination against poor people and the slippery constitutional slope toward drug testing people who apply for other forms of government funding, like unemployment, food  stamps, or mortgage assistance.  They are a commentary on the mantra of our nation, the belief that is okay to kick someone when they are down, to demonize the problems that you don’t understand, or vilify someone who is suffering in a way you’ve been lucky enough to avoid.

I don’t believe this to be the American way and I think it’s sad that the GOP does.  I said it once before in this essay, but it bears repeating:  I am lucky that when I asked for a hand up, it was given without question and in that, I am lucky to have had a fighting chance.  I can’t be a part of taking that chance from someone else.  For this reason, drug testing welfare recipients will simply have to go down as reason 316 on why I won’t vote republican in 2012.

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