Thursday, June 09, 2011

The usual suspects

the usual suspects

The message popped up in a facebook post. Perhaps you saw it:

"Florida is the first state that will require drug testing when applying for welfare (effective July 1st)! Some people are crying this is unconstitutional. How is this unconstitutional yet it's okay that every working person had to pass a drug test in order to support those on welfare? Re-post if you… agree!!! Let's get Welfare back to the ones who NEED it, not those that just WANT it."

One could practically hear the Tea-cups clinking at the Party as the revelers lined up to agree.

"Hell, yah!"

"Why should taxpayers enable a drug addict?"

"I'd apply for welfare, but I'm too busy WORKING!"

It's so easy to get on a band wagon when the place its taking everyone seems like a logical destination.

Why should public money go to support drug addicts?

The short answer is that the whole argument is a red herring.

The poor are easily scapegoated and held up as an example of all that's wrong in society. In the 80s the offending individual was painted as a "Welfare Queen," milking the system for handouts as she flaunted her government cheese from the windows of a shiny black Cadillac. Now the face of contempt is a degenerate junkie who could easily get a job if she'd accept personal responsibility for herself and the children she never should have had in the first place.

But the longer answer is so much more complicated. It has to do with the fact that welfare is the least we can do when there are children involved. The long answer doesn't really solve our problems, either.

The long answer includes the understanding that society is like a flawed chain with weak links that need reinforcement. We think of these as individual rights unless we're of the mind to excise them entirely, then we call them entitlements.

Sure, some will fight for a fetus' entitlement to life, but that's as far as that train goes. Don't come crawling to them for affordable healthcare or education. Those teachers are just one measly, money-grubbing step up from those worthless slugs on the dole. If you know what's good for you, you'll defy all odds and become a Wall Street banker. Then you can screw the taxpayer the acceptable way. Through capitalism.

The furor over Florida's welfare plan is nothing more than the most expedient way for politicians to get votes. They know hard-working voters love to place blame and will rise to the bait. But what the Florida law won't do is save any money.

If the goal of the Florida law were to get treatment assistance for the poor, it might be a provision worth fighting for. But it's not. It's more worthless legislation in the name of moral certitude. it's also costly: It may seem like a ten-dollar test but what happens with the test leads to untold amounts needed in social work, law enforcement, courts, incarceration and foster care?

And none of it will make a dent in problem we face with substance abuse.

Substance abuse (alcohol and not merely illicit drugs) is rampant in all sectors of society, and no more prevalent among the poor than the rich or the middle class.

That logic isn't the point, though, Is it? When we'd rather put children in foster homes and parents in prison than foot the bill for food stamps, I think we're paying too much for our principals and not enough on our problems.


Carl said...

It's nonsense like that that makes me turn off my relatives' Facebook feeds. Start with a flawed premise (all working people have to submit to drug tests -- not only not true, but where it is required it's because of the overzealousness of corporate self-protection, not government requirements), spin up some vaguely accurate current event, ask dumb people to keep reposting it, and voila!

As for the policy itself, it's less about actually deterring drug use than about deterring people from getting help. As it is, the social services system is so very intrusive that I have to believe that only the desperate or those who know no other system would be involved in it.

Suzanne said...

Oh yeah, I have already replied to two such posts last week, with people rejoicing and saying "those lazy good for nothing people won't get high off MY money". I gently disagree, and let them know that welfare helps children and I'd rather be wrong a thousand times, then miss helping one child. Good writing :)