Welfare Recipients Forced to Take Drug Tests on a Whim What Could and Will Go Wrong

Midwestern state passes bill mandating social workers report anyone they suspect of using drugs; further anyone who fails said test or refuses to submit to it would lose benefits for 3 years. Proponents of the bill, now law, say it was to crack down on drug abusers receiving TANF (temporary aid to needy families), who presumably aren’t actively participating in TANF training meant to help such persons find work. Opponents of the law say drug use among welfare beneficiaries is not a significant problem in the area the law was passed and it reinforces misconceptions and stereotypes as well as creating a hardship for poor people. Under the law if one member of a family tests positive other members will still receive designated allotments only handled by a third party. However nothing was said about how that would work in single parent households or in households with children without getting child services involved, the children being removed thus ending their requirement, eligibility for TANF, moving single persons, couples into general relief stipends.

No one is for drug abusers receiving welfare; in fact one young man pushed for this kind of law in his own state after being born with cerebral palsy directly attributed to his mothers drug use while pregnant, and seeing how much extra help he needed just to get a K-12 education, imagining the money spent. But are such laws the best way to prevent addicts from accessing welfare monies or dealing with the larger social problem of drug use’s impact on families? The answer an unequivocal no; what laws like this actually do, similar to zero tolerance policies, is make it harder for struggling individuals to get help they desperately need to take care of their family. People may lose benefits unjustly because their doctor put them on additional medication, adjusted the dosage of something they were already taking and the person simply forgot to tell the tester. False positives based on lab errors, sample contaminations, mix ups leading to mistaken identity, misreading of results can mean 3 years of no help at a time when more and more people need it to survive. Lifestyle and diet can impact results as well; TV fans no doubt remember the infamous Seinfeld episode involving poppy seeds. While that is unlikely to happen in real life, what can happen is casual secondhand exposure from someone smoking pot in the bathroom of your workplace, the crack fumes from the apartment adjoined to yours in the building you are forced to live in due to lack of income, and because life isn’t an episode of CSI, all the test is going to show is a positive, not how much or how little the exposure.

Policies such as this have likewise zero cost effectiveness being an added expensive on top of what states are already issuing in welfare dollars, considering the appalling fact that cities and states across the country have a backlog of rape kits not being processed, many reaching the statute of limitations, many improperly stored, making them worthless, leaving predators on the street, owing to lack of space, because there aren’t enough staff and facilities to keep up with demand. Yet here is a state wanting to overtax labs processing drug tests for welfare recipients based solely on a social workers suspicion they might be taking drugs, based on the opinions of persons who are not psychologists, psychiatrists, addiction specialists, mental health professionals in any way shape or form. The alternative to backing up labs even more than they already are, is using inferior tests on par with the variety of at home kits available nation wide likely to produce more false positives and otherwise inaccurate results that can drastically effect and derail people’s lives. Because deciding who is tested is left up to the arbitrary, completely subjective whims of perception it is also ripe for abuse if a social worker decides they don’t like a particular client this is just one more way they can make that individuals life difficult; if the social worker wants to take it far enough they could falsify the results themselves, pay a tester to create a positive result. Stranger things have been known to happen in cases where workers form an attachment to children involved; said worker may disagree with a parent’s parenting and think the child would be better off put up for adoption, want to adopt them, see this as the only way to rescue the child.

Discussing the action to be taken should a TANF recipient be found using drugs, the third party idea sounds full of holes; beginning with who these third party persons will be and are there enough of them to act as conservators? Noting known flaws in the welfare, social service system, what happens if they are dealing with a single parent household where benefits are removed but the child, children aren’t? Who loses, the kids of course. An equally accurate assessment, if a parent, household member refuses screening and has welfare monies stripped from them whether they did anything wrong or not, whether they were actually on drugs or not. Additionally such drug tests aren’t going to cover prescription medications for which people actually hold a prescription to be honest the practice our middle American state wants to implement seems rather foolish considering that prescription misuse, over use and so called doctor shopping are the main sources of drug use today. So it doesn’t even achieve its objective of weeding out drug addicts from welfare programs, doesn’t save states with the policy money not paying out welfare checks; it appears an abject failure before it’s even started. Roles of these third party persons remain unclear as well; if one person in a household tests positive, others do not and benefits continue, does that mean the third party placed in charge of welfare funds will scrutinize how every dime is spent, right down to the perceived extravagant toys for a child’s birthday, popular cartoon character notebooks for school? Should that indeed be the intention, A-what a degrading invasion of privacy, B- who are you going to find possessing the time to carry out that level of in depth micromanagement, and C- even if you do what discrepancies ill-advised spending habits will be missed owing to lack of time, people to review them?

Then comes addressing the assumption that drug users don’t participate well in TANF training, as if they are the only ones who don’t; not to mention the obvious flaws in the program itself. Firstly some drug addicts, like alcoholics, can have a functioning addiction; but regardless of your take on how true that is, people don’t have to be drug users to be poor participants in a program and it’s extremely narrow minded to think so. Continuing in that same vain, someone’s lack luster cooperation with said type of program could easily be due to mitigating factors that have nothing to do with their willingness to get a job, learn new skills or fulfill requirements to receive TANF. Instances abound such as one woman whose local career center worker, charged with assisting recipients in gaining work, meeting compliance demands, failed to understand her asthmas reaction to heat and cold effected her ability to submit job applications, especially since her primary mode of transportation was walking. And because she receives TANF can’t afford bus fair to go across town, further limiting her options; local volunteer groups would provide bus fair to a job already obtained but would pay nothing for people actively seeing work. A man participating in TANF sponsored, provided job readiness was told he had to wear both long pants and a long sleeve shirt to an interview in the dead heat of August; which he refused due to an extreme sensitivity to heat known to make him both irritable and physically sick. In one area, more times than not, mandatory appointments between clients and career center staff were never had because the worker wasn’t in and no one bothered to inform the clients they needed to reschedule; similarly notations that the person came in wishing to speak with their worker seemed to never get back to that employee making the poor individual look irresponsible not office personnel. Yet they keep their job while the struggling can’t get one.

Even though TANF is short for temporary aid to needy families workers judging cooperativeness, compliance with program parameters seem utterly ignorant of the needs and responsibilities of families; like one woman who couldn’t job search for a week because her infant son had out patient, same day surgery but still needed caring for at home while the father cared for the other two toddlers. They fail to understand people get sick, children have doctors’ appointments greatly increased if they have chronic diseases like asthma. If you are dealing with a 2 parent household, parents have to trade off times they are out in their community looking for work so one of them can watch the children, thereby avoiding absolutely unaffordable childcare. A TANF program in one state mandated participants spend 35 hours per week doing something towards the goal of employment oblivious of the fact that even if this person applied for every job in their local want ads they were remotely qualified for, applied in person at every place with a help wanted sign, followed up on every lead, they still would not have enough potential opportunities to fulfill their weekly time quota once, never mind throughout the duration of TANF benefits. Facts even more apparent with individuals only possessing a high school diploma, no money for college or vocational training, people with learning disabilities housed in communities lacking job training programs or the ones in existence are out of date, ineffective.

Returning to what to do about drug users receiving welfare and how best to spot them; persons should not automatically have their welfare taken from them because they refuse something humiliating, invasive to their privacy just to get help, underscored all the more by these troubled times when there are record numbers of first time applicants for everything from general relief, to food stamps, to TANF. Needing help should never mean losing your dignity; being poor shouldn’t equate to systematic harassment. Plus what does it do to the necessary relationship between social workers and their client families, if they report someone who isn’t using drugs or who, turns out was taking prescription meds as prescribed? Unfortunately the trust is then gone, because people will piece together who suggested the drug test, assuming they aren’t told outright why they are being tested in the first place. At that point clients no longer trust the help they are getting, which could potentially cut them off from other services they and their family needs shafting young children once again who probably aren’t getting the best start in life to begin with through no fault of their own, many times through no fault of the parents either. Barring the way to early intervention services for developmental delay, behavioral issues, leaving people in the dark about counseling, autism services mommy, sibling support groups surrounding a number of issues, just for starters.

This is exceptionally disturbing taking into account many things can mimic possible drug use to the untrained eye. Schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, anxiety disorders even some untreated depression and bipolar disorder can produce the same sort of behaviors as those tweaking on meth, high on other stimulants. Mild cases of autism and Asperger’s syndrome, neurological disorders are still misdiagnosed as a host of other problems and present unusual behaviors. Tourette’s syndrome just one more in a laundry list of recognized medical conditions that might lead someone to conclude drugs were involved. Certain prescription drug reactions can mean behavioral side effects; controversy over the popular quit smoking drug Chantix and suicide come to mind along with the man who went berserk on a plane after taking Ambien. Adult ADD/ADHD medications are another source of potential behaviors mistaken for illicit drugs. Along those same lines, the diagnosed, documented mentally ill should not be repeatedly harassed to take a drug test simply because they aren’t wearing a tattoo of their diagnosis and current medication regiment on their forehead.

Once again it seems in America politicians, lawmakers, tightwad individuals holding onto prejudice, voting in ballot boxes their overwhelming misconceptions want to tread on the most vulnerable citizens, exactly who said programs were meant to help. Forgoing the impetus behind these and similar initiatives is lost on all of no one, another ill-conceived attempt by states to save money. As it is no coincidence that people who are mentally ill, have mild developmental disorders find themselves in welfare lines, forced to depend on programs when looking at the public’s attitude toward such people, finding creative ways to not hire them, pawning it off on your not what we’re looking for. Being mentally ill, having a developmental disorder, a learning disability is not a sin; it must stop being viewed as if it were. Being poor is not a sin, it never was it’s time everyone stopped treating it that way.

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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