Tennessee conservatives must really be surprised to find out that their gross, stereotypical assumptions about welfare applicants were wrong. Only two percent failed the new screening put in place to dehumanize every person who needs to rely on the state for assistance. That’s 37 positive tests out of 16,000 applicants. And much less than the state’s overall eight percent rate of drug use.
The state decided to test 279 applicants based on their answers to a written questionnaire about drug use. So while 13% of their sample tested positive, it still amounts to two percent of their total applicants.
From Think Progress:
Across the country, states that implement drug tests for low-income families have found that economically vulnerable people are less likely than the general population to use drugs. Utah spent $30,000 on tests that caught just 12 drug users, for a positive rate of 0.2 percent of total benefits recipients, compared to 6 percent of all state residents who use drugs. Before a judge ruled Florida’s drug testing system was illegal, it had turned up a drug use rate of just 2 percent among public assistance users, compared to 8 percent of its total population.
I guess this would be news to anyone who believes the trope that welfare recipients are lounging around all day, smoking weed, and living fat off the system. Those of us with our feet anchored in reality know that is not the case. Hedy Weinberg, Tennessee ACLU director comments, “You are requiring more than 16,000 people to be screened for drug use based on the assumption that people who receive public assistance are more likely to use illegal drugs. There’s no evidence to indicate that’s true.”
We put programs in place to allegedly “help” those who need it, then we make them jump through hoops to prove themselves worthy. The only thing you should be required to prove for assistance is that your income qualifies you for it. Conservatives can’t seem to get over the idea that welfare recipients are a parasitic plague on this country, not people who have fallen on hard times and need help.
Is it a Reagan-era myth that has just stuck? How is it that the US financial system can require a $700 billion bailout and no one bats an eye, and someone who needs assistance so that they don’t go hungry is treated like criminal?
While the testing is so far proving totally unnecessary, more states are jumping on the bandwagon. Think Progress notes that Texas, Maine, Wisconsin and Montana are all considering similar testing plans. Texas is even going so far as to institute a three-strikes program that would make an applicant permanently ineligible to apply for federal aid. Why are we putting so much energy into crafting tests that have proven unnecessary? As Jezebel brilliantly points out, Tennessee lawmakers are also getting taxpayer money, why don’t they pee in a cup?
One third of Americans relied on welfare in 2014 to make ends meet. Conservative lawmakers seem to be forgetting the term is “war on poverty” not “war on people living in poverty.”
(photo: Getty Images)