Starting July 1st, Florida will begin mandatory drug testing of applicants to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
Mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients is a terrible idea on many levels.
First, there’s the matter of basic human decency. The modern conservative is so infuriated at the thought that someone somewhere is getting help (and THEY JUST MIGHT NOT DESERVE IT) that they are willing to override any sort of altruistic instinct or beneficial social safety net to satisfy their desire for revenge against the anonymous cheater out there. This is exactly why the myth of the welfare queen became part of the right-wing worldview under Reagan. Demonizing our most vulnerable citizens provides right-wingers with a scapegoat for their problems, gives them the satisfaction of feeling better than someone else, and “confirms” what they want to believe anyway. It disgusts me.
Let’s look at reality under a worst case scenario: someone applying for TANF in Florida tests positive for drugs. They still have a family that needs food, clothing, and shelter! Now that family will not have its most basic needs met.
One final insult to human decency tops off this law: applicants to TANF in Florida must pay the cost of the mandatory drug test out of their own pocket, regardless of whether they receive any benefits. (They are reimbursed later if they pass the drug test and qualify for benefits.) In other words, it costs money to demonstrate that you have no money: a ridiculous catch-22.
Second, this mandatory drug testing law is unconstitutional. I believe it violates the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
The 4th Amendment protects against unreasonable searches of one’s person. No crime has taken place, and no indication that a crime might occur is present. There is no “probable cause” to conduct a search. I can already hear a chorus of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to fear” brewing out there. That sentiment has led societies to authoritarian ruin throughout history.
The 5th Amendment protects one from bearing witness against oneself. Submitting to a drug test outside of probation — a punishment for a crime — or employment — a voluntary agreement between employer and employee — is an example of forced witness.
The 14th Amendment guarantees these protections (and all of our civil rights) to each of us, including those of us who happen to receive welfare. Carving out exceptions to the 14th Amendment sets a dangerous legal precedent that we should avoid. Unfortunately, today’s right-wingers are eager to toss out the 14th Amendment under cover of “State’s Rights” as they fight to replace our Constitution with what they imagine the Constitution means. (The best illustration of this concept is an Onion article that hits a little to close to the mark to be just humor.)
Of course, it’s also all about the money for Florida Gov. Scott. Private drug testing companies, like the walk-in clinic company co-founded by Gov. Scott, will reap the benefit of this law. I find it true in most cases that calls for privatization of existing government services usually involve corrupt funneling of public money to well-connected private companies. Usually these companies return the favor to corrupt politicians by donating to their campaigns. Readers of this blog will likely agree: this is an especially big problem in Texas.
Fascism begins to seep into a society when civil rights protections are removed from the most vulnerable citizens. Exception by exception is how it starts, and we need to stop it.