Drug Testing for Benefits Is Offensive and Counter-Productive

A pair of state lawmakers have introduced bills mandating applicants seeking government benefits submit to drug screenings.

According to state Sen. Tommy Williams, the principle is that people who receive government money should have government oversight to ensure they can ween themselves from that support. That seems plausibly sensible, but it’s disingenuous when you recall that it’s not just any institution inspecting and tracking people’s personal behaviors, but the apparatus of social compulsion.

Williams’ bill would requiring testing of applicants seeking unemployment benefits and have them complete a questionnaire about their lifestyle. It’s belittling to think that workers have already had their paychecks docked and now would have their personal decisions scrutinized for withdrawing funds they already contributed. Not that a retired wealthy banker like Williams would know, but it’s further insulting that this exchange was likely done under considerably less favorable terms than they would have been in a co-operative insurance program.

Sen. Jane Nelson’s proposal to screen unemployed and low-income applicants for government assistance is just the next progression.

Despite their pleadings of allegiance to the US constitution, conservatives seeking to escalate the scope of the state’s reach are acting consistently with their inclination for social control. Federal courts have ruled these procedures unconstitutional repeatedly, and there’s no reason why these blanket privacy intrusions would meet the constitutional requirement for probable cause.

As a practical matter, these tests have proven to be wasteful and ineffective. In a fizzled Florida experiment, less than four percent of applicants failed or refused to comply with the test.  After incorporating the cost of the screenings, the program’s experienced a 63.2 percent cost increase, not including the legal challenges the law faced before it was halted by a court order.

With one class of people noticeably absent from scrutiny — those being the recipients of corporate welfare — the moral of the story here is not new, but bears repeating: If you are at all dependent on the state, whether by choice or force, and you don’t have the good manners to be politically connected, you will always stand the risk of being treated like a patient at a criminal asylum. It’s as good a reason as any other to resist further encroachment of the government on our private lives.