By Mark David Blum, Esq.
What is it about us Americans and neighbors that prompts us to feed one upon another? We are supposed to be a good People, a Righteous People. Supposedly we have Christian hearts; at least that is what I have been told ad nauseum these past few weeks. I am not seeing the love. What I am witnessing is a community about to turn on and eat its most weak and dependant.
Apparently, local State Senator John DeFrancisco along with Senator Patty Ritchie are sponsoring a Bill before the State Government mandating that any applicant for welfare submit to a drug test and, if positive, a drug treatment program. The good Senator defends his legislation arguing its value comes a lower budget, "by the savings from having to pay drug addicts habits and from those that won't apply for fear of getting caught. And from the savings from reduction in crime resulting from identifying and getting drug users into treatment." DeFrancisco is telling us this law will save taxpayer dollars by (1) not funding drug habits, (2) chasing away people who might test positive, (3) an alleged reduction in crime, and (4) getting people into treatment.
Oswego County Legislators fell all over each other rushing to the State House with their hands out seeking to be a ‘test county’ for this new welfare policy. In Oswego, it is clear they want to wash their hands of welfare applicants.
Do not even try and argue these policies are about getting drugs out of society. Our nation spends hundreds of millions of dollars housing hundreds of thousands of people in some of the world’s more secure prisons. Not one such facility, where every aspect of a person’s life is controlled, supervised, and locked down, no … not one such facility can call itself “drug free”. If we cannot keep drugs out of our nation’s prisons, how will we ever keep them out of a free society? The hard cold reality is that this new mandatory policy to drug test welfare recipients is not going to impact our State’s drug problem. For that, Senators DeFrancisco and Ritchie seem to have no objection to throwing tens of millions of dollars down that hole. Oswego County loves to spend its grants and gifts enforcing the drug war. None can claim any success. Instead, they want to refocus their energies and punish and abuse the poor.
Let’s look at what the good Senator is proposing: First, he argues taxpayers will save money in welfare disbursements because our tax dollars will not be spent “funding drug habits.” Many people questioned about such a drug testing program will support that position. I too am a taxpayer so anything to save me money, I am all for that.
The Senator’s argument fails for several reasons. Up front is that many people know a lot of ways to beat a drug test. So who is the program going to catch? Next, for what drugs are we testing? Marijuana? Cocaine? Oxy? Xanax? ‘Water’? It is illegal under federal law to test for alcohol and alcoholism is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other drug use is not. Further, not everybody on welfare derives 100% of their income from the taxpayer. Some folks can work or bring home some extra money and still receive benefits. Medicaid provides medical coverage for up to appx $2,000.00 a month in family income. Other people mow lawns, work under the table, and generate a small supporting income stream. Who is to say which money, private or public, is funding a drug habit. Don’t people have the right to spend their own money any way they want without interference by government? After all, three or four people can spend $7.50 and get a nickel bag and a cigar and roll a blunt to be shared by all. Seriously, does the Senator or the public know how small an amount of drugs it takes to catch a buzz?
There are a lot of reasons, or at least excuses, for why people use drugs. The market is flooded with so many different kinds of ‘high’ a person can get. There is only one reason people use any drug … it works. The drug has the expected impact. For some folks, like the terminally unemployed or unemployable, the boredom of being unproductive is a killer. If that person chooses to use a drug that numbs the pain, I cannot fault them. If they choose beer, then nobody cares and they get their welfare checks. What about cigarettes or soda pop or Doritos or mayonnaise? How much authority do we as citizens want to delegate to our government to involve themselves in our private lives? In an instant, any one of us can go from a warm home and a good job to homeless, hungry, destitute, and begging for help. The rights we able bodied taxpayers who vote surrender to government today are those we lose for ourselves tomorrow. Then we get into the whole issue of why cant a person unwind from a hard week? If we can do it with Bud, why cant others do it with bud? Not every drug user is a drug addict or drug abuser any more than is an alcohol drinker an alcoholic or an alcohol abuser. Sometimes folks just wanna have some fun. Who are we, taxpayers though we be, to sit in judgment how another citizen and fellow earthly traveler spends their downtime? I think what is behind Senators DeFrancisco and Ritchie and in Oswego County is they just don’t like the people who do drugs. Its not the drugs; it is the people they don’t like. Elected representatives don’t like their own constituents and so they pass laws against them.
Second, Senator DeFrancisco defends his proposal by proclaiming, “it will chase away people from applying because they might test positive.” What a horrifying concept. How cruel; one American to another. Can you imagine an elected person representing a large number of constituents and then taking pride in creating a program that will leave people homeless, hungry, begging, and in pain? Seriously, there is no pride in chasing away someone who might test positive. If welfare is not in place as a safety net to catch those who have fallen, for whatever reason, then there will be people breaking into homes for food and money, sleeping in doorways and shitting in front of businesses, dying in the streets, and having no hope or chance for survival. Those who advocate for such a law because it will chase people away is going to be chasing away the people who may most benefit from the very help the program proclaims to provide.
Third and most profoundly unsupported by law or reason, Senator DeFrancisco and his brethren in Oswego County believe that their drug testing program will decrease crime. I would love to see the scoring data on that emptyheaded assertion. Crime will increase if people are denied, thrown off, or chased away from public assistance. You have no idea how motivated a hungry person can be. I would seriously like to know what crimes these elected ones feel will decrease by making mandatory drug testing for welfare.
Finally, this new law is supposed to get people who test positive into treatment. What if they don’t need treatment? Who is going to pay for this treatment? Is this treatment going to be successful? I bet the taxpayer is paying for the testing, the treatment, the relapse, and more treatment at a cost far higher than someone who buys a headbag or an eightball. Not every drug user needs treatment. They are what is commonly referred to as recreational users and that would be about 90% of the people who do use drugs of any kind. It is possible the rehab provision will catch a person or two who’s life is out of control due to drug use. But to so deeply attack the privacy of so many for the possible one or two is a failed policy. Punishing the large group because of the sins of the few is unconscionable and insufficient justification for such a government intrusion.
Two other justifications come up when discussing this issue. Perpetual office seekers wont use these arguments but quietly defend them. One argument is that “I have to take a drug test for my job, why cant they?” The other defense raised is “it’s my money and I don’t want people spending it on drugs.”
Drug testing in employment is a whole different discussion. Impairment testing and not drug testing should be used. Drug testing is being used far too irrationally in its job distribution. Further, drug testing does not determine intoxication at the time of the test.
If, however, for the sake of discussion, one accepts the drug testing is important for employment argument, then the basis therefor is that the drug test is somehow relevant to the job itself. For example, a long distance professional truck driver should be drug tested. Police, fire, medical, construction are just some of the professions where the work is dangerous to both the worker and the general public. Their sobriety on the job should be a top priority. If government feels it needs to drug test to do so, then I can live with that because I see a correlation.
Where the correlation is lacking is between poverty and public assistance. We are talking about a huge invasion of a person’s privacy, a big constitutional no-no, because we want to assure the recipient is sober. Why? Does being sober have any impact on whether they are any more or less deserving of our ‘Christian’ heart? Again, the constitution requires us to treat similarly situated persons equally – we have created laws that say when a person’s income reaches a certain level, we consider them worthy of taxpayer assistance and agree to house and feed and provide them medical care. To isolate people based on sobriety is not even rationally related, let alone narrowly tailored to any kind of legitimate government goal. In certain jobs, sobriety is an absolute. Among those without jobs, or when not on the job, sobriety is not a relevant question.
Finally, for those of you who don’t want your tax dollars given to people who do drugs, you had better start drug testing several million local, state, and federal workers … from the military to the IRS to the local dog catcher. There are a lot of people who ‘live off the federal teat’. Not all of them are poor. But if you don’t want your tax dollars being spent on drugs, then don’t be a hypocrite. Make them all stand up and be tested; including Senator DeFrancisco and the Oswego County Legislature. Since we are throwing out more and more tax dollars on this failed drug policy, why not spend even more to search everyone’s urine. On April 15th each year, along with your tax payment, you can also send a urine sample to the government. The rehab industry is about to bubble in Oswego County and eventually Statewide; all funded I am sure by Medicaid – you and me.
Boiled down to its gravy, drug testing people because they apply for or are on public assistance is wrong on so many levels. It offends the constitution. It offends our cherished rights of privacy, of equal protection, of government search and seizure and involvement in the most personal of matters. It hurts people, does little if any good, and will have zero impact on drug use and abuse. When people reach out for help, it is our responsibility to be there. Our turn may yet come.
If we treat people like animals and cut them loose to be hungry and homeless, then they are going to behave like animals. I for one am not a fan of growing packs of hungry homeless people being cut loose from any help. Crime could increase exponentially. For some there is a lot to be said about 3 hots and a cot. At the same time, there are others that I have met over the years that I take great comfort in knowing they are spending large amounts of their time blasted on the couch. We are all safer and the world is a better place when they are sedated and not on the streets.
I just do not accept the assertion that this proposed law and Oswego County’s rush to try it is based on saving the taxpayer money. On its face, it will drive up costs to both the taxpayer and the citizen on the street. To me, this law seems to have as its single goal is to kick the weakest among us. It is feel good legislation masturbating the anti tax movement. But the law is cruel, it is inhumane, it is offensive, and it is wrong. Shame on its’ proponents. Shame on Oswego for rushing to implement it.