Back in August, I wrote about Orrin Hatch's plans to demand mandatory drug tests for welfare and unemployment beneficiaries. At the time, it seemed like a crazy fringe suggestion from a well-known enemy of the poor. However, it seems like Hatch is no longer stranded on the lonely loony plane.
A state lawmaker wants random drug testing of adult Kentuckians who receive food stamps, Medicaid or other state assistance.
Those who fail the test would lose their benefits under House Bill 208, filed by Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster.
Napier's proposal has won the backing of powerful House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, but critics say it would stigmatize welfare recipients and possibly harm their innocent children.
Yeah, the children. It seems pro-life Republicans have the strangest habit of forgetting those little critters once they're post-womb.
St. Napier says he's not a bad guy, but rather he's just looking out for the interests of the unwashed masses.
"I'm not a hard-hearted guy," said Napier. "I believe there is a need for public assistance for those who need it, but I understand some are using these funds to buy drugs."
Napier said the goal "is to get people off drugs."
A couple of points here. This proposed legislation means Kentuckians must be willing to assume a couple things: 1) Jobless Americans are inferior creatures that deserve to be put through humiliating obstacles for the crime of being unemployed, and 2) Drug addicts are also lesser beings that should be punished -- instead of treated -- for their vices.
I hate to break it to Napier, but a drug addict who has their state assistance cut off probably isn't going to rationally reexamine their life, quit cold turkey, run out to secure a minimum wage job (a real breeze in this market,) and open a college fund for their kids. The process of detox and recovery is a long, arduous struggle. If officials are really, truly doing this because they have some desire to see addicts become self-sufficient, they would be better off working to decriminalize drugs in order to place addicts into clinics instead of prison cells.
Now, it's entirely possible Napier and company aren't doing this to help drug addicts, but rather to squeeze some more money from the poorest among us. Why else implement such a generalized form of collective punishment? Even if the welfare system is teeming with drug addicts, as Napier alleges, they're still a small percentage of the overall pool, so why put everyone through the humiliating process of drug testing?
This kind of legislation appears to be another step in the overall process of stigmatizing the poor. Remember, debt prisons are already a reality in six states (no one from Goldman Sachs has yet gone to jail), a system approved by Social Security privatization hawks, Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino wanted to stick welfare recipients in prison dorms, employers check credit scores* during the hiring process (as if a high credit score indicates good work ethic. I'm sure Bernie Madoff had great credit), and some employers refuse to even consider the resumes of unemployed people. College-age students acquire enormous debt due to loans, and they face a dauntingly diminished job market upon graduation, while the poor sustain themselves on credit cards, racking up enormous interest that may permanently bury them in debt.
All of these factors work to maintain a permanent underclass that faces unprecedented obstacles in a dire job market, meaning there will not be enough jobs for everyone. That's simply a reflection of poor policy and a capitulation to corporations that have a habit of chasing cheap labor overseas rather than providing for American workers. This broken system isn't an indictment of a welfare state that caters to drug addicts. Rather, it's an indication that the system doesn't provide for the majority of healthy, hardworking citizens. In fact, the system is maintained by idiot drones busily testing the urine of predominately non-drugged individuals.
Update 12/20/11: Greg Fisher from creditscoring.com contacted me to point out that the New York Times article I linked to for my example of employers using credit scores during the hiring process reports that "Employers can generally use credit checks -- but not credit scores -- during the employment process as long as they obtain written permission from the potential employee" (emphasis mine). While the vague use of "generally" doesn't warrant a full retraction of my statement (after all, the NYT clearly must have found employers who occasionally do use credit scores if they said it 'generally' doesn't happen,) I wanted to clarify the original article's intended report. I also believe the use of credit checks during the hiring process is equally nefarious.