Saturday, April 12, 2008

Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients?

A friend and colleague of mine sent me this email. I thought I'd post it here, along with my response to her...

(I sure would like to know who wrote this one! They deserve a HUGE pat on the back!)

Like a lot of folks in this state, I have a job. I work, they pay me.

I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit.

In order to get that paycheck, I am required to pass a random urine test with which I have no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet.

I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their rearends, doing drugs, while I work. . . . Can you imagine how much money the state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check?

Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don't. Hope you all will pass it along, though . ....Something has to change in this country -- and soon!

I replied back to her as follows:

A couple of thoughts.

1. I don't remember the last time I peed in a cup. But it was at a doctor's office. And the results were a private matter between my doctor and I, under HIPPA. Something, I suspect, to do with sugar or kidney function. But, like I said, I don't remember. I've NEVER had to provide a urine sample for some reason related to work, anywhere.

2. Drug testing is usually a safety issue, or an issue related to profitability in the contexts of a free (voluntary) association between an employer and an employee. There are jobs where the risks involved to public safety are deemed to be large enough to justify invading someone's privacy with a drug test. Major transportation jobs, like air traffic control or work as a pilot, are good examples. For profit companies that feel that drug use among employees may reduce profits sometimes advertise a drug free policy that requires drug testing; employees freely enter into that relationship and agree to abide by the drug testing as a contractual aspect of their employment. In some industries, like mining, the two reasons for drug testing overlap.

3. Food stamps, AFDC, Free Lunch at school (which I'd assume qualifies conceptually as a welfare program), disability payments, Medicaid (a need-based subsidy), the Pell Grant - none of these place the recipient of the funding in either of the above two categories. There is no justification for weakening the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search - except bigotry against the poor. With an air traffic controller or a police officer who carries a gun, the courts have ruled I think that a personal search (by means of a urine test) is REASONABLE, given the risks and responsibilities of the job.

4. If drug use is a moral/legal issue that doesn't seem to be being adequately addressed where you live, there are laws and there are law enforcement agencies that the issue can be pointed out to.

5. The idea that we might cut off food stamps and Free Lunch to some of the kids on my monthly report (picture the two freckle-faced boys, or the redheaded girl in the fourth grade with two siblings in lower grades) because mom pops positive for THC on a urine test at DHHR strikes me as, well, almost fascist. Of course, we could just take her kids, but that would mean finding more foster parents and creating a bigger government to cope with all the new drug orphans.

How about if we just let police and judges do their jobs in the community, and stick with the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment...?

My thoughts,


Don't get me wrong. Drugs are a horrible plague on society. Call me a liberal, but I just don't think the solution is bringing an end to the right to avoid self-incrimination, repealing privacy laws, or punishing children for what their parents do.


prin said...

I followed you from a facebook link...

I don't know where you are, but here, Reno Depot (the Quebec version of Home Depot) used to do urine tests for drugs... I don't know if they still do, but somebody I know got hired there about 8 years ago and had to pee in a cup to ensure his position as an unhelpful sales associate. :D

So yeah, some ridiculous companies do require drug tests even if it's completely unrelated to the function or safety of the job...

And what if the drugs tested for weren't THC laden? What if they tested for the harder drugs? And imo, if there is THC in the blood in significant enough quantities, the welfare check won't make the kid better or worse off. For example, a person I know wastes $300 a month on a pot habit. What does that do to his kids on multiple levels? Maybe money (or the withdrawal of funding) would motivate these people to shape up... Maybe.

JMO, obviously.

Greg_Cruey said...

Hi Prin,

I don't know Canadian law well. My problem with the porposal is simple: it suggests testing EVERYONE, not just people who do drugs. Searching people because they belong to a group (in this case a socio-economic group) is not reasonable, under the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution.

We could talk about whether it would solve the problem of poor people doing drugs, or whether it would save the government money. I don't think it would save money and I don't think it would solve the problem. But I don't see a reason to even discuss those issues because the majority of people being tested AREN'T on drugs and are ONLY being tested because of their membership in a group.

In the US, that's a violation of their rights.

As for companies testing... A private company can ask you to agree to being tested BEFORE they hire you and the issue is then contractual. YOU don't have to be tested and THEY don't have to hired you.

The idea being proposed (to receive a government service that you otherwise qualify for you must be drug tested) asks citizens to give up their 4th Amendment rights in exchange for food stamps.

Tracy Rosen said...

I agree, Greg. I had never heard of people be urine tested for a job up here before, Prin! Though I did a search and found that you are right, it can happen and it can also happen in the US.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:


A) that kind of testing is not mandatory (you can choose to refuse the test and apply elsewhere) B) as Greg pointed out, membership to a certain socio-economic class is not the pre-requisite for taking that test.

If you're going to start testing based on socio-economic status. what about the other strata? Imagine if we started to test those in the top economic brackets, let's say the results of the urine test could affect their, I don't know, tax right offs.

The whole thing is ludicrous.