Thursday, April 18, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: Texas says poor people are druggies

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

In Texas, applicants for TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, what we used to call welfare, can receive an average of a whopping $70 per month for each person in the household. In exchange, participants must sign a so-called personal responsibility contract involving such requirements as child support, children's school attendance, parenting classes, medical screenings and immunizations for children.

That level of humiliating assumption that poor people are moral inferiors who will only try to take care of their children if they are forced to, has proved to be, in the eyes of the glorious leaders of the state, insufficient punishment for the failures of being poor.

On Wednesday, April 10, the state legislature, currently composed of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, passed a bill which mandates that every Texan applying for food assistance through TANF must submit to an undefined "screening process" and a possible drug test before receiving benefits if the screener finds "good cause" to even suspect that person is or is likely to abuse any "controlled substance." It passed unanimously.

It was one of seven such bills introduced this year, including one that would extend the requirement to unemployment assistance.

This despite the manifest failure and utter pointlessness of such slaps in the face of the poor, as repeatedly demonstrated in other places that have done something similar.

For example, in 1999 Michigan ran a pilot program of random drug testing, only to have a state court of appeals shut it down in 2003, saying that suspicionless testing is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Florida also ran a pilot program beginning in 1999 but decided two years later that both the costs and the invasiveness of the tests were too great to justify continuing it.

Even so, in 2010 Florida Gov. Rick Voldemort Scott got approval of a requirement for urine tests for all applicants for state aid. Two federal court rulings have smacked down the program, including an appeals court ruling in February that program violated the Fourth Amendment by not showing a "substantial special need," stating in no uncertain terms that
[t]here is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a "concrete danger" that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.
And in fact there is no evidence at all that people seeking assistance are more likely to do drugs. I mean, consider that Florida program: In the four months it was in operation, only 40 applicants out more than 4,000 canceled a drug test after completing the application. Of those that were tested, only 2.6% tested positive - a rate 1/3 that of the general population, according to federal surveys. Florida wound up spending more on the tests than it saved by not paying benefits to those who tested positive.

But still it goes on and on. Seven states have enacted similar laws - and, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, another 29 states are considering legislation this year.

The rich and the powerful really do despise the poor. It's not new - but it's still an outrage.


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