Monday, October 26, 2015

224.8 - Only the poor face drug tests to receive any public aid or benefit

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Only the poor face drug tests to receive any public aid or benefit

Last week I expressed my anger over the demonization of the poor as drug abusers, leading to the assumption that they have to be drug-tested, they have to show they are drug-free, in order to qualify for public assistance. I'm going to go on about that a little more this week.

Because this demonization of the poor has continued despite the fact that experience has repeatedly shown that the poor are less likely to be using drugs than the general population (which makes sense when you think about it: the poor can't afford the drugs).

Despite that history, despite the evidence that the poor are not drug abusers, thirteen states have passed legislation to drug test applicants or recipients of public aid - two of those, Arkansas and Wisconsin, doing so this year.

In addition, 18 states have bills pending to do the same. Because of federal court rulings that comprehensive drug screening is a violation of fourth amendment privacy rights, these bills try various ways to work about that by using questionnaires, the person's history, or the catch-all term "suspicion-based" screening.

Just how blatant is that demonization?

When Florida pursued its unsuccessful attempt before the courts to justify drug testing all applicants for assistance, it actually argued in one of its briefs there is a "concrete danger" that poor people are drug abusers, that is, that you can just assume they are using and abusing drugs. This came after its own program, before it was stopped by the courts, found a rate of drug use among applicants for assistance of just 2.6% in a state where it's estimated that over 8% of the general population are users.

And it's not just so-called "red states." One of the bluest of the the blue, Massachusetts, is now considering a bill that would require a drug test for anyone applying for aid if they have had a drug conviction any time in the last 20 years. The same would apply to anyone else who received aid as a result of that application. Fail, and you are banned from receiving aid for a year unless you complete a drug rehab program at your own expense. Which, of course, you may not be able to do because unless there is a free state-approved one available, if you could afford the cost of the drug rehab you probably wouldn't need the aid in the first place.

Why do I bring this up again? Well, this sort of demonization has primarily been directed at applicants for Temporary Aid for Needy Families, known by the acronym TANF, or similar programs that make up what we used to call welfare - that is, before that word became poisoned by the right-wing out of their hatred of the poor and the liberals out of their condescension toward the poor and their cowardice in the face of right-wing name-calling. But that's not enough for some people.

Sen. Joe Manchin
So Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, wants to go beyond TANF and have random drug testing for people who live in or apply to live in public housing, housing which he repeatedly referred to as "drug-infested." "We should be," he said, "looking at how do you have drug-free areas."

And that, in a way, sums up the who bigotry of it all. You know full well you can walk through virtually any neighborhood anywhere in this country and know there is drug use around you, know that community is, in Manchin's term, "drug-infested." But we don't demand all those people prove they are drug-free. It's only the poor.

We don't demand that those applying for subsidized student loans such as Stafford loans prove they are drug-free before they get aid. Only the poor.

We don't demand that a middle-class family taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit get tested first. Only the poor.

We don't demand that the rich pee in a cup before they can take mortgage interest tax deductions on their McMansions. Only the poor.

We don't demand that farmers looking for price supports prove their purity before they get aid. Only the poor.

When corporations through their lobbyists get special exemptions for themselves written into the tax code, we don't demand the corporate executives prove they're clean so we can be sure those benefits are not going to supply someone's drug habit. Only the poor.

No public financial benefit of any kind, no grant, no tax deduction, no low-interest loan, no subsidy, none of it comes with a demand to pee in a cup - unless the beneficiaries are poor.

It's only the poor who we expect to suffer the humiliation, the degradation, the soul-killing suspicion that they are somehow morally inferior and must prove their purity before we will deign to condescend to offer them a shiny penny. And we expect that because that's what we really think: We think the poor are inferior - lazy, drug-addled, loafers who need the strict but of course actually loving guidance of their betters, that is, us.

It is hatred for the poor. It is bigotry. It is class bigotry, or as I and others call it, classism. And our society reeks of it.

Sources cited in links:

1 comment:

Mike McCarthy said...

I love it! Require people to prove they are drug free before getting the mortgage interest deduction on their income tax!

I have a conservative friend who literally cannot understand what I am talking about when I explain to him that his mortgage deduction is a government subsidy akin to TANF.

I don;t think he would understand this.

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