Friday, March 27, 2015

No Food For You

Hello all! I hope your weeks have been more fantastic than the thought of 'Swan Lake' performed by baby pigs.

While this is mostly a humor blog, I do sometimes feel the need to address ridiculousness that I see out in the world. Today is one of those days.

For months I have seen posts on Twitter, Facebook and even in the news about how those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding (more commonly referred to as food stamps) should have to pass a drug test to qualify.

At first blush to many I'm sure that that sounds like a fantastic idea. Sadly, that first blush would only last about .05 seconds before the negative effects of that kind of legislation would bring would begin to show themselves. So today your friendly neighborhood social worker is going to explain to you why drug testing for food stamps is not a grand idea!

Just to give you all a little background, I have worked with impoverished populations for my entire adult career, have helped the government perform studies on homelessness (I even wrote some of the parameters for state and federal programs) and am considered enough of an expert in my field that I have been asked to teach students (yes, your children) about poverty in the United States by both public and Christian schools. I've taught classrooms full of first graders and given lectures to university students.

I say all that so that I can say this; drug testing for benefits will cost the government an insane amount of money and won't actually punish the people who some (wrongly) feel need punishment. Here is why:

1. It's already been proven not to be effective at saving money. In fact Florida tried it. No really check it out. Out of the 4,068 people tested, only 2.6% tested positive for drugs (most of the positive results were for marijuana, not hard illicit drugs). The state spent over $118,000 dollars on the drug testing alone only to waste a majority of that money on people who, surprise, were not using their SNAP funding to buy drugs.

2. The government systems to run SNAP are already overloaded. In Washington state alone there is such a backlog on six-month checkups for food stamp recipients that now an automated system has been put in place with a lottery system to audit whether the check-ups have even been performed. This means that about one in twenty participants will be audited a year. Why? Because Washington State lacks the money to hire enough people to review each and every single case. 

DSHS is the largest government organization in Washington. So tell me, how much manpower are they going to have to hire to cover their current deficit plus this new drug testing program? In Spokane we don't have enough money to fix our pot holes in the road, you want money to check for every pot head? Good luck with that.

3. Drug addiction is a complicated matter. You don't cure someone from drug addiction by saying "No food for you!" You only make already desperate people more desperate. Want a higher crime rate? Deprive drug addicts of basic necessities and see what happens. You want fewer people to use drugs, how about we stop closing down treatment facilities that supposedly 'cost too much.'

4. A mass majority of food stamps and welfare recipients are not drug addicted fiends. You want to know the biggest demographics of SNAP users? It just so happens that the highest percentages are Caucasian, working families with children or with an elderly relative in the home. 

So implementing a system for a tiny minority that is using some form of drug that is going to cost extreme amounts of money is short sighted and ridiculous. Not to mention the amazing inconvenience we would, as a nation, be putting people through just to get one of their basic necessities met. It already can take six hours to do a six-month recertification, and we want to add a pee test to that?

5. Taking away food stamps, even from people who test positive for drugs, has the potential to take away food from a child. That's right, sometimes people who use drugs have kids, and those kids' only source of food is welfare. Yes, it sucks. Yes it's not right, but there it is. The majority of those who benefit from programs like SNAP and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) are children. 

So before we blindly hurrah behind the "I don't want my money going to addicts" rhetoric, let's think about the consequences and who we would actually be hurting. Answer: Mostly working families with kids and ourselves for wasting our own tax dollars.

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