Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Florida Law Requires Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients

Welfare drug testingBy Alexis Garrett Stodghill
The Republican governor of Florida has just signed a bill into law that will require recipients of welfare to take a drug test when applying for aid. The law went into effect on July 1, and requires applicants to pay for the test. If an applicant tests positive for drugs, a family member can receive their benefits to distribute to any dependent children. If welfare recipients pass, they can apply to have the cost of the drug test reimbursed.
Governor Rick Scott approved the law, which will affect 113,000 adults, as a means to prevent tax dollars from being wasted by drug users, who he also hopes will be discouraged from using by the measure. Are these arguments logical, or is it unfair to test people for drugs just because they seek government help? Clutch magazine analyzes these issues, concluding:
The problem… is that the law does not test all Florida residents receiving aid from the state but instead targets low-income ones alone.  Critics say that behind the law is a stereotyping of all welfare recipients, one that would never be applied to say small business owners seeking the state’s financial assistance.
The Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says they will attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the law in the coming weeks.  They are taking particular issue with the fact that Department of Social Services will be turning over positive drug tests to the states’ child services agency to open a possible child abuse investigation against parents. [...]
The ACLU filed their suit against Governor Scott on July 1st.  They are using a similar law overturned in Michigan as precedent to prove the Florida law is unconstitutional.
The classism perpetuated by this law is obvious, and its sentiment is spreading. In addition to growing attacks on those receiving welfare aid, some states are moving to enact laws that require a drug test to receive unemployment benefits. These measures put humiliating pressure on the already downtrodden, while doing little to address their true problem — a lack of economic opportunity.
By contrast, government infiltration into the private lives of the financially stable receiving government support has not been considered. GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s husband owns a firm that benefited from Medicaid to the tune of $161,000. Bachmann herself owns a stake in a farm that has garnered $260,000 in government subsidies. Is she offering to send in urine samples to ensure that her use of these monies is legal? No.
After the $700 billion Wall Street bail out, the stock market scions immediately gave themselves record bonuses that outraged the public — quickly pocketing government cash. Cocaine and marijuana use in the financial sector is known to be rampant, but there is little talk of monitoring how that taxpayer money was spent.
As the poor don’t have the funds to contribute to GOP political campaigns, it’s much preferred to scapegoat the penniless recipients of government handouts. They cannot defend themselves.
And scapegoating is the political game Republicans play best. Rather than developing viable plans for economic development, they have honed this distraction tactic to perfection. With the public focused on the poor, who are covertly being blamed for government “waste” through these drug-testing-for-aid laws, the GOP can happily dole out corporate welfare to their cronies.
The scapegoating of the poor is a smoke screen for this dirty work — and America is falling for it. Many support the idea that drug testing for aid recipients makes sense, because on paper it does. But we need to remain aware of the larger social framework in which GOP supporters are excused from participating in the dehumanizing policies it forces on others. In the end, this routine blinds us to the Republicans’ lack of leadership in the one area that will really get people off the dole — creating jobs and spurring the economic recovery.
We need to keep our eyes open and minds clear to stay above the confusion being created by these drug testing proposals. This is the only way the GOP will be held accountable for their fiscal policy failures.

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