It always amuses me when those who express grave concerns about the government controlling the lives of citizens turn around to advocate legislation that calls on the government to do exactly that. This is why I read with great interest a column in our newspaper last weekend by Republican State Senator Jeff King, touting legislation that he wrote in 2013 that requires drug testing for welfare recipients.
King discussed the alleged success of SB 149, a piece of legislation that he credited with combating the region’s drug problem. It prohibits individuals who fail a drug test from receiving federal welfare assistance or unemployment benefits until they have complete drug treatment and job training programs.
Even though his political party is currently in charge of mismanaging this state, I can find things to admire about King. At least he has the guts to regularly face his constituents and answer their questions in his regular listening tours, local town-hall meetings, and in columns like the one that defended this bill.
I also understand why people might object to their tax money potentially being used for activities that they don’t approve. It doesn’t surprise me that bills like King’s might enjoy strong political support. However, having a girlfriend that regularly forces me to listen to cheesy modern Top 40 radio stations has taught me that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s any good.
One thing I noticed about King’s column is that, even though this legislation passed more than two years ago, he didn’t identify what percentage of welfare recipients have actually been shown to fail these drug tests. He just credited his program with helping almost “100 people get much needed drug treatment and job training.”
So, according to the author of this bill, fewer than 100 people have failed these drug tests in the last two years, lost their benefits, and tried to meet the requirements to get them back. According to the Kansas Health Institute, 21,887 Kansas families were receiving these TANF benefits in 2013 when King’s legislation was introduced. So, King is admitting that his legislation has only caught and helped less than .004 percent of Kansans who receive these benefits.
King also forgot to mention how many total recipients have taken these drug tests, how exactly the state decides who has to take these tests, or how many people who fail these tests might not have sought the necessary help to get the benefits back.
His brand of flawed thinking has been tried before in Florida, a state that regularly aims to be the World Capital of Bad Ideas. Before a federal judge wisely pulled the plug on that state’s mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, it was found that 96 percent of test-takers came up negative for illicit drugs. At best, measures like King’s would only apply to four percent of actual welfare recipients. Most of these are only testing positive for non-fatal and relatively-harmless drugs like marijuana that will probably soon be legal. I believe someone can roll a joint every once in a while and still be a good parent and a productive citizen worthy of an occasional helping hand. Supporters of invasive and unnecessary legislation like this apparently disagree.
The Senator’s column did not indicate how much this kind of “help” to a low percentage of welfare recipients costs Kansas taxpayers. What this kind of bill really ends up doing is transferring money from people and families who are dealing with hard times to drug-testing firms and treatment facilities. How much these tests cost, or which Republican-campaign donor’s medical business might be in charge of conducting them, also went conveniently unmentioned by King. He failed to explain exactly how a person poor enough to qualify for government assistance is supposed to pay for drug treatment. My educated guess is that will end up being provided by a politically-connected corporation with costs covered by taxpayers as well.
It seems odd that a member of the party that claims to endorse non-invasive government and fiscal conservatism would support an idea that benefits such a small percentage of people and that could cost so much. King would be wise to realize that recipients of welfare programs aren’t the ones cutting services for the mentally ill, stubbornly refusing to extend Medicaid, or dreaming up convoluted school-funding methods that only benefit large districts in politically-important areas of the state. That damage is being done by the Republicans who are currently running the Capitol, and endorsing financially-irresponsible ideas like these drug tests.
It is interesting that neither Senator King, nor his colleagues in the legislature, nor his staffers, nor the governor whose agenda he helps push are currently required to take a drug test to obtain their jobs and the government benefits that come with them. If they genuinely believe these drug tests for welfare recipients are a proper use of government money, maybe someone should propose a bill to start drug testing our legislators and politicians.
Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, invitations to our legislators’ upcoming town meetings, or suggestions for other invasive procedures our politicians should be forced to undergo to firstname.lastname@example.org.