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The Drug Test

drug testO.K. I get it.

If you don’t know anything about “the welfare system,” then drug testing “people on welfare” makes sense.

After all, your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used to support “people on welfare.”

Even on days when you don’t want to go to work, you show up because that is what is required for you to bring home a regular paycheck. Obviously, “people on welfare” are looking for an easier way to get money.

And, because they aren’t working hard like you are, they must spend their time doing whatever they want – including watching television all day and doing drugs. Since they don’t have jobs, the money that “people on welfare” use to buy those drugs is obviously coming from their “welfare check” that we, the hard- working taxpayers, provide them. If they didn’t use the money from their “welfare check” to buy the drugs, then they don’t need a “welfare check” at all.

To ensure that no one “on welfare” is using our money to buy drugs, then we have to drug test them. That way we won’t be wasting taxes, right?

Wrong.

The seemingly ongoing demand and state jumping on the drug testing band wagon isn’t based on facts and statistics but rather on prejudice, stereotypes and misinformation about “the welfare system.”i don't always

It’s also a waste money. Requiring drug tests for individuals who receive social services benefits has consistently been shown to increase administrative costs with little else to show for the efforts.

When the State of Tennessee started testing individuals who applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), only 37 out of more than 16,000 applicants failed drug tests during a six month period.  Those results weren’t much different from those in other states, such as Utah and Florida.

I don’t know what the cost of administering those tests was, but I do know there is no way that those results can be spun to indicate cost-effectiveness. But then, the outcry for drug-testing people who receive TANF has never really been about cost-effectiveness or even helping families with drug addiction.

It has always been about pointing fingers at low-income people and blaming them for their circumstances.drug-testin-testing-for-welfare-recipeants

Despite public perception that “people on welfare” are lazy and don’t do much to contribute to society, the life of people who receive TANF isn’t all that restful. First they have children to raise.

TANF, which was established during the Clinton administration, is only available to families with children. It also requires recipients to participate in programs that help them learn skills and gain employment. In West Virginia, TANF recipients are required to sign a personal responsibility contract which they have to follow or they will lose benefits.

Even if they do all that is required of them, federal law prohibits them from receiving  more than 60 months of assistance during a lifetime.

For a small amount of cash assistance (in West Virginia, a family of four receives an average amount of about $385 each month), TANF recipients must go to classes, do volunteer work and actively seek employment. Studies show that the average time any individual receives TANF is 24 months, and that is usually the result of unfortunate circumstances like the loss of a job or divorce.  Much like an insurance policy, TANF was available to these individuals who had been taxpayers but fell in tough times until they could once again be taxpayers.

I have many more friends who never used TANF  not because they never had financial difficulties but because they had the resource friends and family to help them through the crisis. Not everyone is surrounded by people who have the resources to help.

But even when we look beyond the stereotypes about who receives TANF, there are even bigger issues.. For example,what happens when someone does test positive for drugs? What will happen to their children (since they must have children to even receive the assistance.) Just as critical, who will be responsible for treatment and recovery services? In my community, those services are usually unavailable and inaccessible to low-income and rural individuals. Advocates have been complaining for years about the lack of treatment programs. Before we focus on drug testing anyone, we must  have the community capacity to help those who struggle with addiction.

The call for drug testing “people on welfare” only makes sense to those who either don’t understand the social services system or who don’t want to understand it.  It only makes sense to people who don’t mind stereotyping low-income people or who don’t realize that’s what they are doing. And it only makes sense to those who think that subjecting people who are already struggling to additional accusations is more effective than subjecting them to a helping hand.

My File Cabinets Full of Men

 I completely appreciate why the internet is buzzing about Governor Romney’s claim during Tuesday’s presidential debate that he had “binders full of women.”  But there’s also a part of me that identifies with his statement.

I, after all, have file cabinets full of men.

While Romney said he used the binders to identify qualified candidates for key positions in state government, my file cabinets serve an entirely different purpose.

I use them to store reminders of all the men that are NOT qualified to be in any part of my life.

I started my first file when I was a young girl and a boy told me that men were more important than women because they got to keep their last names when they got married. I was devastated, but I was also angry. As a result, that boy had the honor of being the first male I ever put in a file cabinet.

Over the decades, I’ve filled several file cabinets with men. Some of the most memorable include:

*  The minister who insisted my friend keep the word “obey” in her wedding vows.

*  The agency director who tried to prevent me from getting a management position because I breastfed my baby during a meeting that I graciously attended while on maternity leave.

* The community leader who always referred to me by using my husband’s last name, even though he knew I had never changed mine.

*  The manager who issued a dress code that all female employees must wear pantyhose with skirts or dresses.  (For the record, the dress code was issued during the summer when I was eight months pregnant.)

*  The nonprofit executive who, with a staff of all women, refused to let mothers take sick leave when a child was ill or had a doctor’s appointment. At that time, we were all granted a set number of days for both vacation and sick leave, but vacation was much more limited. The director’s exact words were, “letting mothers take sick leave for their children isn’t fair to the employees who don’t have children.”

* The supervisor who blatantly promoted young, attractive females over more qualified, middle-aged women.

I’ve recently been considering adding another man to my file cabinets. While this man claims to support women, he’s never demonstrated any real understanding of the often life-long battle many of us have faced. He’s skirted around the issues of equal pay for equal work and reproductive rights. And even when he tries to express his appreciation about the need for equality in the workplace, he falls short by indicating that women don’t want to work long hours because they have to go home and fix dinner.

Yes, this week I’m definitely thinking about adding that man to my file cabinets. I’m just not sure if his binders will fit too.