Saturday, February 4, 2012

Welfare Drug Testing: WHO are We Really Worried about?

I'm sure many of you have heard about the implementation of drug testing for individuals on welfare in some states. Yes? I have seen and heard great support for drug testing. Yet, it seems a complete waste to me. And even more, it clearly targets particular populations. In fact, more recently, results are proving the financial outcome does NOT support continuing drug tests.

The support I've largely heard for drug testing of individuals requesting government assistance, stems from the notion that women are having babies only in order to manipulate the system, that they are staying on welfare for extended periods of time, and that they are not using the money for the correct things. And yes, these comments are always targeting women when I hear them.

The gendered comments I hear fail to acknowledge the feminization of poverty.  So, instead of looking at the real issue (that women are disproportionately poorer than men), we degrade women, make claims against them, and question their intentions. Clearly, they must be using their welfare money for drugs. And, clearly, it is only women. Of course, this is not serious. We know men also use drugs and we know men also are on welfare. But, somehow, over time, this has been lost. We make women who seek financial assistance out to be monsters. You know the ones? Those horrid "welfare mothers". They're taking all of the taxpayer money. These are the women who have babies simply to get more money from the government. They don't work and they don't care for the children they have. They use the money all for themselves. Yet, in Indiana (a state with a recently introduced bill for drug testing of welfare recipients--see below), the average welfare payment is $346 for a family of FOUR.

What people fail to mention as they characterize women in this nature, is that in 1996, hoping to free people from what some saw as a culture of poverty in the United States, Congress changed the welfare system, which had provided a federal guarantee of financial assistance to poor people since 1935. The federal government continues to send money to the states to distribute to needy people, but benefits now carry strict limits—in most cases, no more than two years at a stretch and a total of five years altogether if a person moves in and out of the welfare system. The stated purpose of this reform was to force people to be self-supporting and move them away from dependency on government. 

So, will drug testing scare all of these monsters of women away? No. Why? Because the percentage of individuals (yes, women AND men) who have tested positive while on welfare is so low and that it is more expensive to perform the urinalysis. In Florida, for example, the cost of the drug test is at the expense of the individual seeking assistance. However, if they pass, the state reimburses them. The State of Florida would save less than $240 a month by denying the 2 of 40 individuals who failed their tests 

And, I want to mention that a newer version of this drug testing law has recently been repealed. A recent bill was withdrawn from the Indiana General Assembly that would create a pilot program for drug testing of welfare recipients. Why was it withdrawn? Because it was amended to include drug testing of lawmakers as well. Seems to me drug testing of welfare recipients is simply another way to keep those in the lower class in line. And, as established above, this means women.  Lawmakers, largely men, don't need, want, or think they should be tested. Yet, they're the ones that likely have the money to afford the drugs. Notably, the sponsor of this bill has stated he will be reintroducing a modified version of it. See here.

So, let's think about this. Who are we really helping by drug testing welfare recipients? Current information proves that individuals on welfare are most often not using drugs (2 in 40 in Florida--and one of the two is repealing).  And more importantly, who are we targeting by implementing drug tests?

I want to acknowledge that some people have posted the below picture on their Facebook pages. I've seen it around. It's important that we know this type of poster and remark are not based in fact, but rather anger and frustration. Performing urinalysis tests on all individuals receiving government assistance is actually only furthering using your tax dollars.

While the video I've posted below clearly takes a particular stance, there are elements that I think anyone, regardless of your stance on this issue, can agree with and recognize as truth. Check out the video and participate in the poll (below). And, don't forget, we have a Facebook page now, so like us there as well :) Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page. It be great to better understand both sides of this argument.

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  1. Hey Devon,
    Great post! I am amazed when teaching about women and poverty how often students (and general public) are quick to maintain stereotypes regarding welfare. I find that one way to challenge the idea behind welfare is to ask people to actually define the term "welfare." More often than not someone will chime up- it is a form of monetary assistance provided by the government. Yep. That seems to be the basic principle of welfare. Now, the next question to ask- who else besides the poor receives welfare? To be clear, there are many others who receive monetary assistance from the government-it is just labeled something else- tax breaks and subsidies or more recently- bailouts for example. Corporate entities have been receiving government welfare for quite some's just called something else. Thus proving the importance and strength of language, meaning, and rhetoric. So we need to be clear as to what exactly is being demonized here....and of course putting the spotlight on those who are living within a low income bracket, in particular women, maintains the invisibility of corporate welfare recipients.

  2. Something interesting to think about is how this post and the Planned Parenthood posts could be more closely connected. I think women are typically thought of because they are the ones taking responsibility for their children. Maybe if they had access to healthcare "options" and education that was affordable; maybe there would be a decreased need for welfare(they make educated sexual decisions , that have consequences resulting in a need for or not at all, welfare). Does this make sense? It is late where I live, may repost in the morning after sleep! :)

  3. Anonymous--I think you're exactly right. People forget that we provide government assistance in many different forms. Welfare is only one of these. But, it seems to be easier to label and stigmatize those deemed poor as opposed to those more similar to ourselves or even in positions greater than our own.

    Erica B.--I think you've made a great point here. I certainly agree that mothers, more often than fathers, serve as primary caregivers for children. Considering this, and the fact that women continue to get paid less than men for equal work, it makes sense we see women seeking welfare. Also, I think your suggestion that education and access to reproductive and sexual healthcare as a means of lessening the need for welfare is good. While I don't think education is a foolproof technique in this case (because not everyone is going to lead an abstinence-only lifestyle), if contraception was more widely talked about and accessible, women would have more control over their sexuality and reproductive choices.

  4. dgtt--I actualy wasn't meaning abstinence education, I think general sex ed and some information about natural family planning would be great for this group because there are preventative measures a woman can take to prevent pregnancy from listening to her body and knowing certain signs to watch for. These prevention methods are free too bc the woman herself does them, which makes them even better. :). Free is good!!!