If We Really Want People On Welfare To Have Dignity, We’ll Test Them For Drug Use


If there’s one thing that truly fascinates me about American politics, it is the process by which the orthodoxy is constructed. Once upon a time, this was the result of different parties choosing different “planks” of the platform and then going to the polls, with “planks” that appeared in winning platforms more often than not becoming the orthodoxy. Example: no major party has made the reinstatement of slavery or plural marriage or the nationalization of grocery stores a plank of their platform in quite some time. These positions are no longer up for the debate. They have become orthodox.

Today, the orthodoxy appears to begin with partisan media bleating about a particular topic until the consumers of that media accept it as a fact. When the topic spreads to general media and the general media bleats about it until the general public accepts it as a fact, then it’s orthodox and the voting is just a formality. So the next question becomes: How does the partisan media decide what should be pushed out to the sheep? Sometimes it’s done through actual star-chamber stuff like the secretive JournoList or the brash ALEC. Sometimes it’s the product of association with, or reaction to, like-minded positions.

Then you have the progressive position on drug testing welfare recipients, which appears to make no sense whatsoever.

As someone who worked in the check-cashing industry for a while, albeit more or less involuntarily, it makes sense to me that welfare recipients use drugs more often than “regular” people. (Big, heavy, monstrous quotes on “regular”, by the way. Plenty of welfare recipients are what we think of as regular people, particularly in the current economy.) I cashed thousands of welfare checks a month and I cashed thousands of employment/contracting checks a month. Nine times out of ten I could guess the check based on the person who presented it — and if they were obviously high or drunk, it was almost always welfare.

My individual experience over the course of eighteen months in that profession is borne out by a fair number of studies that show that substance abuse is, in fact, a problem for welfare recipients and that addressing that substance abuse significantly increases the rate at which they return to work. The studies also show, incidentally, that chronic depression and PTSD are just as prevalent among the welfare base — but that’s another problem to address, not a reason to ignore drug use among welfare recipients. You don’t decide not to fix your car’s alternator belt just because the muffler has rusted out. You try to fix both when you can.

This all seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Of course welfare recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the working population, and of course it’s an impediment to their finding and retaining employment. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It’s the new orthodoxy regarding welfare recipients and drug use, and you can find it explained in typical Millennial poopytalk at The Daily Beast. You can read the article if you like, but I’m about to cover the salient points.

We start with this:

Last year, Utah Republicans passed and enacted a law that mandated drug testing for welfare recipients… if you the kind of person (sic) who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea…. The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.

This is a typical partisan hit piece, of the progressive kind. (The conservative kind of hit piece tends to favor contempt over outrage, as seen in the writing of Ann Coulter et al.) Let’s examine the assertions:

  • “Facts have a liberal bias”. Whenever you read something to that effect, you can rest assured that you’re about to hear about some “facts” that are only “facts” in the broadest, most inclusive sense of the term. Failing that, you’ll hear about some misinterpretation of statistics.
  • “It’s just that — a myth”. Another progressive trope, this one almost always used to defeat a common-sense position. “The myth of water boiling at 100C is just that! Fracked water boils at room temperature!” The conservative equivalent of this, BTW, is the extension of common sense into uncommon territory. “Corn syrup can’t be bad for you — it’s made from corn!”
  • “only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening.” So what does that mean, exactly? You could take that factoid to mean one of two things. Thing 1: nobody was on drugs. Thing 2: they were ALL on drugs, but awareness of the testing requirement made them quit. To put this another way: Does the fact that metal detectors at airports rarely “catch” people with guns mean that you could take the metal detectors away and the number of guns brought onto planes would stay low? If we publicly ended all highway speed enforcement in the United States, would speeds stay the same?
  • “The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people.” Was the person who wrote this piece fucking high when he wrote it? In what world is the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people less than $25,000? In a single month, maybe; but Utah pays out $19,000 a year to each recipient, which is slightly over $1,500 a month, which is $18,000 a month for a dozen recipients. It would take our dozen drug users just 45 days to chew up over $25,000 in benefits.

What can we learn about the author and the media source from this piece? Well, they don’t think you can operate a calculator, and they don’t think you’ll examine any potential reason for a particular “fact” other than the one provided. But wait, there’s more.

Indeed, if we’re going to test welfare applicants—who receive trifling sums of money from the government—it makes as much sense to test bailout-receiving bankers, loan-backed students, defense contractors, tax-supported homeowners, married couples with children (who receive tax credits), and politicians, who aren’t strangers to drug use.

In other words, if stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.

We can assume from this paragraph that Jamelle, the author of said paragraph, is both a student and a moron, and that he has never held a real job. Yo, Jamelle: Nineteen grand a year isn’t “trifling” unless you’re asking your parents to give it to you. Furthermore, every “bailout-receiving banker” out there took a drug test to get his or her job, and all of them are subject to random testing in the future. The same is true for every defense contractor, with the possible exception of the owners of privately held firms. Married couples with children and/or homes are also subject to drug testing, because nearly every major corporation in America tests its employees for drugs. Most temp agencies do. Wal-Mart does, and they use a hair test!

The vast majority of employed Americans have taken a drug test. Not just pilots and surgeons. You need a drug test to clean the toilets at a restaurant. If you ask me, that’s ridiculous and it should be illegal. The contents of your urine, blood, feces, sperm, toenails, or DNA strands should be absolutely private and you should not have to piss in a cup so you can work at the Home Depot in the paint department. Hell, let’s give LSD to the people in the Home Depot paint department. Might liven some shit up in these eggshell-wall McMansions.

Applying a zero-tolerance drug policy to children makes perfect sense. Applying one to every adult who wants to work in the United States — all that does is make people drink more. Not that alcohol will be legal for long. Nor will caffeine. I was recently asked during a pre-employment physical if I “used” caffeine.

“Intravenously?” I replied.

We are rapidly moving towards a society the Puritanical nature of which would shame the fucking Puritans. Between that and the increasingly insufferable March Of The Foodies, we’ve managed to regress all the way to prehistorical religions where they obsessed night and day about sacred eating rituals. It’s like Matthew 15:11 never happened. The only thing that a man is allowed or encouraged to put into his mouth in public or private in the year 2014 is, seemingly, another man’s dick. If you eat a marijuana brownie you’ll be unemployable for life as a drug addict. If you eat a regular brownie you’ll be unemployable for life as a sugar addict.

Incidentally, it is perfectly within the remit and purpose of the United States Government to make pre-employment drug testing illegal. But the corporations don’t want it that way, so it doesn’t get done. For now and the foreseeable future, if you want a job in this country you’d better lay off the weed and everything else. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. And, like Strother said, I don’t like it any more than you men.

Which means that if you are currently on welfare and you are looking for work, no matter what that work might be, you also need to be off drugs. Now, if you think that people on welfare are beyond hope, that they are going to be on the dole for the rest of their lives, that they’ve dropped out of society and will never return— well, those people don’t need to be ready for the workforce, so they should be allowed to do whatever they want. Because at that point we’re just talking morality and we shouldn’t force people to be moral be any particular standard to receive help. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to force people to pledge their belief in Jesus, or Buddha, or gender equality, or Neil deGrasse Tyson, just to get assistance? Of course it would. By the same token, preventing people on welfare from smoking weed or eating Cheetos on moral grounds is ridiculous.

If, on the other hand, you think that welfare is a waystation for people who temporarily suffer hard times, that it is a helping hand when it’s most needed, that it is simply a safety net — well, then it makes sense to ensure that the recipients of welfare are ready to return to the workforce. And since the workforce doesn’t accept drug users, welfare eligibility should be restricted to people who are ready to abide by the demands of the workforce. You shouldn’t have a negative incentive in place preventing welfare users from returning to work — “Oh no, I want to interview, but I need 90 days to pass the hair test.”

When I was cashing checks for a living, I watched my customers who were on public assistance deteriorate over time. The person who cashes his fifteenth welfare check is not the person he was when he cashed his first one. The fact is that being on welfare sucks. You can’t add “dignity” to it because even the least intelligent among us knows it’s humiliating to live on charity. The more my customers screeched about their “rights” to assistance the more we all knew that they didn’t truly feel that way. The GOP is wrong: most people on welfare probably don’t want to be there. The Democrats and their media machine are wrong: most people on welfare are in fact there because they put themselves there through the consequences of choices they made.

The best outcome for any person on welfare is to be off welfare. So if you believe that most welfare recipients are capable of doing something better, it’s critical to remove every barrier in their way. And since drug use is one of those barriers, it needs to be removed as well, and the sooner the better.

23 Replies to “If We Really Want People On Welfare To Have Dignity, We’ll Test Them For Drug Use”

  1. -Nate

    Interesting article .

    I watched so many of my (Baby Boomer) generation get side lined through drug mis use , some made it through , many fell by the way side and died .


  2. jz78817

    ” Yo, Jamelle: Nineteen grand a year isn’t “trifling” unless you’re asking your parents to give it to you.”

    Everything is cheap when it comes to spending other people’s money.

  3. mnm4ever

    I used to believe that people on welfare do not want to be there. But I have been seeing a constant stream of evidence over the past couple years that has really made me rethink that position. I almost hate to say it because it implies support for the rest of the GOP’s wacky political platforms, but I think they are on to something with this. Through various social interactions I have met people from many different backgrounds and I am shocked at how many of them are “living for free”.

    I am talking about generations of people: as my kids have grown up I have seen friends of theirs enter adulthood with no plans to do anything but figure out a way to get disability or food stamps, or simply just live in their parents garages for life. I have met many, not a few, but many families who live with grandparents or great-grandparents, not working, being supported by public assistance, raising their kids this way who then get someone pregnant and join the extended family in the same house… none of them work. It is so frustrating, especially as I struggle to give my kids a good life, keep them in school to be educated and plan for a future, they work part time and pay for some of their own school costs too. And these friends of theirs do nothing but play video games, they do not even take advantage of the grants that would pay for them to go to school for free, they waste it with no ambition or plans of any kind, aside from knocking up my daughters (not happening!!).

    The problem extends to those who do work as well. My wife had a job for a couple years that attracted a lot of lower income people, and it was the same way with many of her friends there. One person, usually the wife, would work, supporting a husband or boyfriend that hasn’t had a job in years, raising kids on food stamps and assistance checks… the wife would work for 6mo or a year, eventually quitting to “stay home with the baby” and collect unemployment, then get another job and plan to have another baby. My wife would try to help them, talk to them, get them to see a way to a better life… never worked, she finally quit keeping in touch with any of them after she left there. My own sister-in-law quit her job with the intention to get disability, in essence for being overweight, and all she did the entire time was sit around eating candy and sleeping. She actually expected us to feel sorry for her when her claim was repeatedly denied and she had to go back to work. They still have my mother-in-law shelling out hundreds of dollars a month because she feels sorry for her grandchild… nothing but mooches. I won’t even speak to them for taking advantage of her this way, and I am not afraid to admit I am pissed off because she is wasting my wife’s future inheritance on those useless bums. My sister married into a family where practically everyone is on welfare… I think 3 or 4 of them work, the rest of her in-laws stay home and do nothing, forever. Hell my own wife’s family is the same way but most all of them are in West Va so we don’t really see them ever or talk to any of them. I do know one of her cousins, the one that started having kids at 15, her husband is the only one that works, and he supports their 5 kids, 2 other kids from cousins of hers that they couldn’t take care of, her sister, her brother, her mother, her stepdad and I think he has a cpl kids of his own too living there…. not one of them has a job except this one 25yo guy who is a mechanic.

    It used to be that people were embarrassed to be on welfare. But it is slowly becoming socially acceptable and that is scary. Kids are raised not knowing any different. People seem to have accepted the fact that they will never be able to afford a new car or a nice house so they just give up and plan to live at home forever. The system makes it worse by making it so difficult to get “temporary” help for the people who really need and deserve it. The act of getting welfare becomes a full time job in itself, and once they get it then it is human nature to keep milking it as long as you can. Being lazy is easy… addictive… so it becomes a trap.

  4. Widgetsltd

    Hang on a sec. I have been laboring (literally and figuratively) all this time under the impression that one cannot obtain unemployment benefits unless one was involuntarily discharged (laid off) from one’s job. Being fired for cause or quitting voluntarily would disqualify a person from unemployment benefits as far as I know. I realize that unemployment benefits are administered by each individual state, but I would be quite surprised if it were possible to quit one’s job to “stay home with the baby” and collect unemployment. Where is it possible to do this?

    • mnm4ever

      Happens in Florida. There are a multitude of rules associated with it, but in essence it comes down to it being cheaper not to fight it. And one can “quit” without quitting, it isn’t hard to get fired from a job, especially those jobs low paying enough to make it worthwhile. Florida’s unemployment is capped at like $1200/mo or something. My daughter’s ex-bf got fired for not showing up to work and still collected unemployment with special extensions for 2 yrs.

      And it isn’t just unemployment, which at least has some kind of time limit. From what I have seen, the big goal is disability. There is an entire industry of disability attorneys that file and re-file and fight and work the system to get people disability. Usually takes 2 yrs or so to get approved, but once you get it, you get a lump sum payout from the first filing date. The trick is, you can’t work for those 2 yrs, but that is where unemployment steps in, or the spouse that works just enough to cover expenses while still getting food stamps and other assistance. And the lucky ones can then sue their previous employer for firing them for something that turns out to be a disability… that’s the big payout.

  5. Marc

    Its very interesting, because its just one of many bigger conversations that we are not ready to have, like the war on drugs itself or the basic income grant.

    You put it very pessimistically –> “Now, if you think that people on welfare are beyond hope, that they are going to be on the dole for the rest of their lives, that they’ve dropped out of society and will never return— well, those people don’t need to be ready for the workforce, so they should be allowed to do whatever they want.” (I mean what, should they *want* to be working at unrewarding, inhuman service and temp economy jobs?)

    But this is exactly the reality of the situation, all long term statistics point to welfare being a VERY permanent feature of most people’s lives in a post-industrial economy and not a bridge to finding a job. Transfer payments represented about 8% of total US incomes in 1970, and now it is 19%. 15% of the US population is on food stamps and fun fact: food stamp use grew 75x faster than jobs did 2009-2013. These numbers will very quickly encompass the majority of the public- in just one or two generations.

    With this in mind, the welfare of the future begins to look more like a basic human right rather than a temporary handout. Therefore means testing and conditionality of welfare needs to go out the window to make that transition (at least if we care at all about closing the inequality gap even a little).

    And its precisely *because* every job requires or will soon require drug testing (except wall street jack lol, I can promise you especially the guys receiving the bailouts are high right now…) that the moral argument for not drug testing welfare recipients makes itself. After all, you are just being cruel to addicts because as they are already locked out of the work force. Just like most ex-convicts.

    Which is incidentally how we also deal with the problem of drugs in general- other than paying $1 trillion over the last 40 years to fight a pointless war on drugs (so hard to get drugs these days), is we just lock up the people who do drugs as much as we can (especially if they are black) even for non-violent crimes, which happens to also neatly solve the problem of whether to pay them welfare or not…

    • A. Nonni Maus

      Marc, I just smoked half a joint looking at 11 Wall Street through a hotel window. That joint was paid for with what could be argued is a tiny, indirect slice of bailout.

      Serendippity-do-da, QED, &c.

      • Marc

        ha! If not from a bailout then most certainly form the Bernank’s wealth effect… but hey I like to look at the joint as half full 😉

  6. Marc

    By the way, it is a very slippery slope when you tell a welfare recipient what they can or can’t do with their lives: if you have a problem with them doing drugs, why not also ban people who just waste the day looking at porn and browsing for shit they can’t afford on eBay. That’s hardly productive…

    Why not make browser history a competent of welfare conditionality if we are already at drug tests?

  7. A. Nonni Maus

    Here’s the thing: If you’re too much of a scumbag to even stop doing drugs long enough to get a job, Quick Fix only costs $30 and due diligence is free. The ROI on that can be fabulous, ask me how I know.

  8. arbuckle

    “If we publicly ended all highway speed enforcement in the United States, would speeds stay the same? ”


  9. Dirty Dingus McGee

    This, the culture of “gaming the system”, is not a new concept. Case in point; In the late 70’s I was employed at a company that manufactured vinyl upholstery for automotive and commercial use. They wove or knitted the cloth, coated it, finished it, etc. I worked in the maintenance dept, mainly on plastic extruders. We were the 2nd highest paid dept, only behind the sewing machine mechanics. There was this one guy that worked in that dept that flat refused to work ANY overtime. One afternoon several of us had met for some beer after work, and I finally asked George(name changed to protect the guilty) why he wouldn’t work overtime? He replied that it would mess up his food stamps.

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think that was the beginning of the decline I had of the faith in my fellow Homo Sapiens.

    As far as drug testing for work; a lot of it is driven by insurance companies. If you have an accident at work that requires a trip to a doctor/hospital, they WILL test your blood for drugs. If any are found, any claim for workmans comp is instantly denied due to your drug use. Doesn’t matter if it was 3 weeks ago you hit that joint as there is no(to my knowledge) good way to tell how long ago it was the drug was used. Of course then the lawyers enter and everyone but them loses.

  10. Domestic Hearse

    One of my favorite profs was Yugoslavian. He grew up under the Communist Party and behind the Iron Curtain. He smuggled himself out, came to the west, earned his doctorate and taught political science and history at our small, midwestern, liberal arts college.

    As a J-school/English major, I jumped at the chance to take his course, Propaganda.

    He looked at all of us fresh-faced, America-loving, naive, small town and farm kids with kindness in his eyes and declared, “It’s all propaganda.” We smirked. We knew the government controlled press was “over there” and controlled by the Soviets. Our press was free and able to write the truth. Which they always did. Certainly the professor, having lived with the commie-pinko press should know better than to make such an absurd statement.

    Then, over the course of the semester, we dissected articles just as Jack has done above. We learned to take apart “facts” and “statistics” and recognize slant and ask ourselves, “who benefits?” so that we might track back to a story’s genesis.

    We watched recordings of each network’s nightly news, did a comparison/contrast and came away understanding that almost every night, the same stories were covered, in the same order, with commercial breaks timed exactly to coincide with the other networks’ breaks. In other words, they were reading off the same script, yet posing as independent news agencies.

    Then we watched movies. Old ones, with obvious government influence. New ones, with much subtler undertones, but propaganda, nonetheless. Sometimes political, sometimes corporate, yet always, an agenda was uncovered.

    This was back in the mid 80s, cable TV was in its infancy (the only thing worth watching was MTV), computers were still using big floppies and running MS-DOS, and the internet had yet to be invented by Al Gore. Er. Anyway, my point is that today, with the explosion of content on the interwebs and cable, it’s even more critical that we read and watch, well, critically. Sadly, my professor is retired, and I suspect there are few if any institutions still teaching kids how to recognize and dissect propaganda.

    And it’s all propaganda.

  11. Simon

    One of my favourite cartoons of all time is a Bizarro from years ago. It shows Karl Rove speaking to Plato and the caption read “But surely you agree that repetition of a lie creates truth?”.

    I’m not sure I can agree with your argument about checking welfare recipients for drug use but your comments about propaganda and orthodoxy are right on.

  12. VTNoah

    Not sure if this was mentioned before but, If we require a drug test of welfare recipients, why not send those who test positive to mandatory drug treatment facilities? That way we can at least make an attempt at helping these people get their shit together.

  13. tedward

    Awesome article… But please don’t cross post to ttac with this one. It would dominate threads there for weeks (although the time has been pretty civil lately).

    I agree with your points, but a clearer solution would be neutering the judicial assumption of guilt that comes with a positive screening for weed. It’s the most potent tool that the drug warriors have left, mostly because of their unholy alliance with the insurance companies on the issue.

  14. JP

    Consider drug use as the pursuit of the greatest reward among a set of limited opportunities, it would make sense to focus on improving the opportunities as well as the punishment.

    We make collective choices about what we incentive and what we punish. In an economy with stagnant demand, the opportunities for me to grow my business are scarce. We have focused so much of our collective attention on the tax code that our CPA has grown the disposable share of our income very considerably over the last few years.

    My belief is that this collective effort would have yielded far better results if we’d focused on growing demand and improving the general levels of opportunity. Give recreational drug users a better incentive to join the work force and never belittle anyone working a minimum wage job. Punishment alone will simply divide and create a permanent underclass.


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