Sunday, April 14, 2013

drug testing for food? i want to click "stupid"

I saw this on FB last week.
I don't need to tell you that I didn't hit "like." In fact, I found myself wishing Facebook had a "stupid" button I could click instead.

By coincidence, this posting appeared in my newsfeed directly below the first.

Photo: Interesting infographic on triggers/causes of homelessness:

The second graphic represents demographics for homelessness rather than food stamp recipients, but I still found it interesting that these two posts showed up together--especially given that the latter shows drug and alcohol use as the least of all listed "triggers" for homelessness. 

Of course, this graphic comes without sources, so the numbers could be skewed toward a particular agenda--most likely relating to jobs.  It's certainly worth checking the numbers if you're interested in this topic. 

At the very least, however, it illustrates that homelessness is a complicated problem with a variety of causes that require careful consideration.  The image asks you to give that consideration.  It doesn't ask you to point fingers or pass judgments.  This is the kind of information I like to see shared on Facebook, albeit with citation.

As for the first graphic - or message: I really can't stand this kind of propaganda. It oversimplifies a complex issue and asks people to pass a thoughtless judgment that serves their own self-righteousness far more than it serves any effort to actually address the often separate problems of addiction and hunger. 

I imagine this message circulated because Representative Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill earlier this month that would require states to test 20% of their TANF applicants at random.  (TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is a federally funded but state run food assistance program).

I wonder if the thousands of people who so righteously "liked" the idea of drug testing thought about any of these questions:

- What is the rate of addiction among food stamp recipients? (Most people seem to agree only that we don't really know--but this also means that reliable numbers that justify drug testing don't exist).

- How much would drug testing for TANF applicants cost?  Who will profit from that? And where will the funding come from?

- Will the expense of testing surpass the savings incurred by purging people from TANF?

- What about the children of welfare recipients who fail drug tests?  Are we planning to deny them a meal too?  How will we find and feed those children without the parents' involvement? And how much will that cost?

- The message implies recreational drug use. What about addicts? Should an illness disqualify a person from receiving food assistance?

- Is it realistic to expect that when you deny a drug user food assistance, their hunger will motivate them to stay clean?  Or is it more realistic that hunger will motivate them to commit a crime?  If so, will it cost more to incarcerate them than it would have cost to feed them in the first place?

As of now, it seems Florida's recent attempt at drug testing serves as the best example of how this works out.  Florida managed to test 4,086 welfare applicants in 2011 before a federal judge questioned the law's constitutionality and put a stop to it.  Of those 4,086 screenings, only 108 applicants (just 2.6 percent) failed the test, and most of those failures were for marijuana use.  If you weigh the cost of testing against the savings in denying food assistance, then you see that this brilliant program cost Florida taxpayers $46,000.  They could have saved that money if only they'd done the humane thing and offered food instead of a little plastic cup.

Facebook is a funny thing.  I don't really want to fight with my "friends," and I'm actually very glad that we don't have the option to click "stupid."  But still...