This is an issue that has been irritating me for almost a year. It’s not your typical conservative vs. liberal tug-of-war; many of my own self-professed liberal friends agree with drug testing welfare recipients. Why? It’s probably because they are too far removed from either the recipients of welfare (they don’t know any poor people) or because they know little about the actual issue.
Perhaps college graduates were taught women’s rights in college but never taught that poor people also have these rights. This morning I was trying to put my finger on exactly what irritated me about my college friends who have no qualms with these new measures. A friend of mine posted a ridiculous article about a proposed abortion law and how she did not agree with it. With one fell swoop*, she added to her post something like “although I agree that welfare recipients should be drug tested.” Why is this? I can see they are technically different issues—one deals with a personal choice and another with tax money. But the issue of abortions has a lot to do with the government trying to control another’s body. And while there is one difference for the drug testing (these people are getting help from the government), it goes completely against every notion that the government should not have control over anyone’s body.
Many of what I like to call “idiots” claim that since their work can drug test them, welfare recipients should also have to be drug tested. Since when did we start treating the government like a private company? I work at a company that often won’t allow people to distribute offensive material to the public through them. These people like to argue that we can’t tell them what they can and cannot distribute, since it violates their first amendment right to free speech. But we are not the government (as mentioned above)—we are a company that can choose to do things that citizens would never allow the government the ability to do.
Somehow my professors were civil enough to teach me that poor people actually do have rights**. While looking at an essay I wrote, I stumbled upon this quote from Vivyan Adair, who grew up as a poor woman on welfare: “Ultimately, we come to recognize that our bodies are not our own, that they are rather public property. State-mandated blood tests, interrogation of the most private aspects of our lives, the public humiliation of having to beg officials for food and medicine, and the loss of all right to privacy, teach us that our bodies are only useful as lessons, warnings, and signs of degradation that everyone loves to hate.” For some reason, poor people’s bodies are public property. People seem to think that welfare is some sort of easy way to live; that people are on welfare because it’s better than getting a job. But this is simply wrong. People don’t want to stay on welfare forever. Like the rest of America, they probably dream of owning their own house or business.
It has been documented by many a people that our society is not actually ridden with drug-addled welfare recipients. Indeed, most drug addicts are not actually on welfare. You probably don’t know this, but drugs cost a lot of money.*** And people seem to think that poor people are more likely to do drugs—thus the perception that welfare recipients are drug addicts and misusing the system. However, as you may have heard from this over-discussed argument, and I quote from the NYTimes, “Recent federal statistics indicate that welfare recipients are no more likely than the general population to abuse drugs. Data show that about 8 percent of people use drugs illegally. Before a random drug testing program in Michigan was suspended by a court challenge, about 8 percent of its public assistance applicants tested positive.” So, as the argument goes, our insistence that we drug test the poor only further propels the belief that poor people are drug addicts.
And furthermore, other statistics show that 70% of drug users actually have a full time job (note the “drugs are expensive” statement above). You can Google this if you please.
For those college students that I may be targeting, please note that most of your loans and grants for school came from the government as aid to you. Since you clearly can’t put yourself in the position of a welfare recipient—I don’t know what you think poor people do, but I can definitely say they are not having the time of their lives living under the poverty line—giving the government this right could easily mean giving the government the right to test any person who is receiving aid. That’s you! And while I sincerely detest the slippery slope argument on any grounds, I don’t really see the difference between welfare and Medicaid and other types of aid us mildly poor people receive.
And, obviously, I wouldn’t end this without noting the fact that drug testing welfare recipients does not save the government any money, as noted in this recent Floridia article. I should also point out the the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who pushed this bill into action, owns the majority of shares in the company that does the drug testing, giving him significant financial gain for these measures.
*Yes, that’s the correct wording.
**Check your local library for a copy of the Constitution.
***Don’t quote me on that.
WARNING: I did not proof-read this very closely, as I find it boring to do.