Our view: A bad and biased proposal
SouthtownStar editorial February 8, 2013 10:26PM
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:46AM
At least 22 state legislatures are considering requiring that welfare recipients be tested for illegal drug use before they get any benefits.
In Illinois, the sponsor of this smug, cynical bill is state Rep. Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth). He not only wants to test welfare recipients, he says legislators should be drug tested, too, thus proving that even bad ideas can require a goofy equity.
Mitchell’s rationale is slightly different from other states where the idea is cloaked in pious public posing about helping get poor people off drugs, saving taxpayers’ funds, and, let’s face it, punishing society’s “takers.” Mitchell’s view is that welfare is like a full-time job, and many employers require a drug test.
This equation presumes that welfare recipients don’t use the money for basic necessities but blow much of it on drugs. Unfortunately, it presumes facts not in evidence.
In Illinois, less than 10 percent of those enrolled in the main public aid program stay on it for longer than a year. In fact, 60 percent of them work but don’t earn enough to feed a family.
The idea that many in Illinois need help on their way to better lives seems obvious. The idea that many choose welfare as a lifelong preference is preposterous.
Drug testing for welfare recipients in Florida was an embarrassment before being suspended until a legal challenge is resolved. Florida found that welfare recipients were less likely to test positive for drugs than a random sample of the general public. Of the 4,086 applicants who were tested, a mere 2.6 percent failed, most testing positive for marijuana.
The net results of the experiment in reducing welfare costs? Taxpayers spent $118,140 on the drug testing — nearly $46,000 more than was saved on the welfare program.
Mitchell’s proposal, like all the state measures, is built on prejudice. Poverty is no sweet deal for anyone, and making the poor or jobless feel more downtrodden is both cruel and misplaced.
We’d prefer that the Legislature do more to create good-paying jobs rather than punish those without one.