Saturday, September 26, 2009

Urine Tests To Receive Welfare Checks

Last month I got an email that's been widely circulated around the web from a friend that I had to disagree with. In lieu of original thoughts during my current domestic transition I reproduce that email for you here:

Now here's an idea that just seems too simple........

(Whoever wrote this one deserves a HUGE pat on the back!)

Like a lot of folks in this state, I have a job. I work, they pay me...
I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit.
In order to get that paycheck, I am required to pass a random urine test
with which I have no problem. What I do have a problem with is the
distribution of my taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test.
So here is my question. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a
welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?
Understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their
feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone
sitting on their rump doing drugs, while I work.Can you imagine how much
money the state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a
public assistance check?
I guess we could title that program, 'Urine or You're Out'.

Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don't. Hope you all
will pass it along, though. Some thing has to change in this country --
and soon!!!!!!!
And now my response (and no, I didn't simply delete when I disagreed):
I realize that you didn't write this yourself Tami but the reason this seems too simple is because it is. All requiring urine tests for receiving a welfare check would do is punish poor people for personal behavior that shouldn't be any of the government's business in the first place, not to mention punishing any children whose parents didn't pass the tests. Also, the vast majority of welfare recipients must meet certain work requirements in order to be eligible for aid. While the popular perception of the average welfare recipient is that of a terminally lazy drug addict the reality is that most recipients (not including the elderly, children and the handicapped) are employed at least part time and leave the welfare rolls within twelve months of joining. If the use of illegal substances and being gainfully employed were each mutually exclusive situations as this person seems to be saying then over 40% of Americans would now be jobless.

Welfare recipients and other poor people are obvious targets when people start talking about social engineering through the distribution of government funds (this post about illegal immigration similarly addresses this type of populist demonology) but the truth is that most middle and upper-class Americans also receive "welfare" in the form of tax deductions for home mortgages, corporate and farm subsidies, capital gains tax limits, Social Security, Medicare, and a multitude of other tax benefits. Should we require everyone who receives any of these government benefits to be similarly tested as well? We're trying to save money by denying it to those who use illegal drugs and those tax dollars are worth the same no matter who receives them. And do we really want to give the government that kind of power over our bodies and personal/private recreations?

If this person really wanted to save tax dollars we should have urine tested the CEOs and boards of directors of every investment company and automobile manufacturer that has received any amount of bailout funding and subsequently withheld said funding from any company that didn't pass (do you doubt that these millionaires might have a few illicit substances in their own systems?). While we were at it we could have done the same for every private contractor doing business in Iraq. The government spends $324 billion a year on all welfare and unemployment. The banking industry alone received over twice that much in bailout money while the total cost of the Iraq war is estimated to be seven times that.

I suspect that the person who wrote this is not so much concerned with saving the government money as they are with trying to control the behaviors of others that they disagree with by picking on a group of people who are easy targets and can not easily defend themselves. And incidentally, this person doesn't have to pass a urine test in order to earn a paycheck that will be taxed by the same government that distributes welfare benefits. They've chosen to work for a private company that has this policy, which of course is that company's right. But as I said, giving that power to a government that is the only source of welfare (at whatever level it's being distributed) would be oppressive and dangerous as to our individual liberties and privacy rights. This person may not have any qualms about government intrusion into their own life but I for one do not want to have to piss in a cup to receive my tax return or get a student loan, which is the path down which this course of logic would invariably lead.
Whether you agree or disagree with my take on this, I of course welcome all comments.


BD said...

This has the same racial and class warfare undertones as does blaming the housing crisis on Acorn. "I'm a lilly white bitch working a union job making motorhomes and if the rest of the world was just like me, life would be grand." I'm not sure what part bothers me more, gov't digging way too deep into its citizens' lives, or the assumption that those on welfare are all on drugs.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

It's another example of the limited minds of some people. There is always a need to think of something so the boss or the public thinks you're doing something.

I test lab samples all day but because some idiot trying to justify his salary had to come up with something, I have to have a commercial truck drivers license.

Whenever a legislator needs an issue they turn to stiffer penalties or more rules for people that have no voice like welfare recipients. In the meantime, these same jokers are preaching the Reagan mantra of "voluntary compliance" for big business and othe rpowerful interests.

JBW said...

Hey BD, tone down the rhetoric there bud. I know you hate Whitey but we're not all that bad. Seriously though, what bothers me the most is Americans thinking that their fellow citizens should have less privacy rights just because they're poor and need a leg up, because everyone knows that anyone who's successful in this country got there without any help or luck whatsoever while anyone who isn't is obviously a lazy drug addict.

JBW said...

For some reason T101 the public can always get behind tougher sanctions against the little guy (even though most of them are little guys themselves) but they just make the assumption that any corporation is always "pro-America" and totally on the up and up. The Republican party has mastered getting people to vote against their own self-interests.

Eclectic Radical said...

'They've chosen to work for a private company that has this policy, which of course is that company's right.'

Both of these statements are open to some degree of debate, actually. The economic conditions that prevailed in many parts of the country even before the economy 'officially' went into the tank make it very possible her 'choice' to go to work for company with such a policy was very limited by circumstances and necessity. When someone holds a gun to another's head and tells them 'Do this or I will shoot you' we don't call that a choice. Contrary to much right libertarian and conservative propaganda about 'individual responsibility', economic conditions frequently give companies such a gun to hold to the heads of their employees.

It's also questionable whether or not the company really has 'the right' to apply such drug testing policies. Now, it is true that such policies are written into employment agreements in such a fashion as to make them legally 'voluntary.' The problem is that whole 'gun to the head' argument again. When one desperately needs a job, one is not in a position to exercise 'individual responsibility' and blow off good paying work. Sure, one can choose to remain unemployed, but what kind of a choice is that?

The government can't test your blood or urine without a warrant or your voluntary consent, because of search and seizure laws and the whole constitution thing. And consent under duress, false pretenses, or lack of information frequently gets test results thrown out by the courts.

So does private industry really have 'the right' to require an employee to sign away rights the government is bound to respect in order to get a job? Specifically since unemployment and poverty (or the threat thereof) is certainly 'duress' of a significant sort?

And speaking as a white guy, I'm not completely sure BD is that far wrong. The rhetoric may be heated, but his core point is valid: the assumption that welfare recipients are criminals of ethnic minority origins is core to many arguments of this kind. Combine this with the assumption that drug users are also criminals of ethnic minority origins, also core to many arguments of this sort, and it becomes difficult to disagree with what he is really saying.

As a white guy from California living in the South, I really don't care for 'Whitey' all that much myself. ;)

JBW said...

ER, as someone who has chosen to ingest many illegal substances at several points in my life I'm the last person to defend the practice of drug testing but I will say that a company or private individual absolutely has the right to test their employees. You don't like it, don't work there (or don't use illegal drugs).

And I don't buy the argument that one has a "gun to their head" when taking a job during tough economic times. If you want to use illicit substances (which I also think is absolutely your right), you can always take a lower paying job at a company that doesn't test their employees but if you desperately need a job you can exercise "individual responsibility" and not use those illicit substances. That's your choice.

And yes, private industry absolutely has "the right" to require an employee to sign away rights the government is bound to respect in order to get a job. One doesn't sign a contract when they're born in this country. That type of citizenship is completely non consensual and as such one's rights are already enumerated so as to ensure that they are protected by law but in choosing to work for a particular company one voluntarily cedes certain rights. Private industry has "the right" to make employees sit in little cubicles, wear ridiculous uniforms or even sing a "Happy Birthday" song for dumb-ass customers if that's what they choose to do. Again, you don't like it, get another job.

With a myriad of jobs and companies out there no one is ever "forced" to take a particular job. Now, if you want to work within a particular field or in a certain area of the country there will be limits to what work you can take but those are self-imposed limits and private industry is under no obligation to capitulate to your personal preferences.

As for BD's rhetoric, I was speaking a bit tongue in cheek. He's one of my best and oldest friends (and he's white), so I assumed that he would get the joke. Of course I absolutely agree with what he said as it pertains to assumptions about welfare recipients and I think I said as much in my post.

And as a white guy from the South living in California I also don't care for "Whitey" all that much myself sometimes but I do recognize that he's done a fair amount of good for this country and the world as a whole while I'm simultaneously talking shit and making jokes about him. I mean, "Friends". Am I right, people?

That was another joke. Or was it...

Eclectic Radical said...

First and foremost, I should have spotted the joke and I apologize if I sounded more strident than I intended. I meant to be at least a bit ironic in my phrasing and clearly did a bad job of doing so. I need to stop trying to be funny. :)

Now to go back to the strident part...

'With a myriad of jobs and companies out there no one is ever "forced" to take a particular job.'

I can't agree with this at all. I can understand the thinking behind it and the thinking behind it is completely correct and rational. The conclusion just isn't in accord with real world facts in all cases. One's needs dictate one's choices.

Lack of a stable social safety net means that many Americans cannot afford to be choosy. They have to take what they can get and as much as they can get for it.

All of this can be very close to a gun to the head, if not eaxctly the same. What is more, corporate employers know it and rely on it.

This came first, but I wanted to address the economic issue first in you got tired of my diarrhea of the keyboard:

'One doesn't sign a contract when they're born in this country.'

Strictly and legally speaking, the vast majority of American workers do not sign contracts either. They work under 'at will' agreements.

The problem is that the 'at will' employee is effectively stuck in a one-sided contract with no bargaining power. They enjoy the 'freedom' to quit at any time, but in practical terms this is nearly always limited by a clause requiring them to give notice or suffer some kind of penalty. So the employee's side of the bargain is weakened out of the gate.

The employer, on the other hand, is not limited at all. The employer can void its side of the agreement at any time by compelling the employee to 'agree' to policy changes under threat of termination because of the power to fire at any time with no notice or cause granted by the agreement.

This is not a 'contract' by any proper definition. It is not terribly different from the practice of indenture. It is an agreement that grants the employee a theoretical 'freedom' generally weakened by the language itself, in return for granting the employer ultimate coercive power in the right to fire at will for no cause.

This circles back to the 'gun to the head' argument again. The employer has a very big economic gun that is always cocked and loaded and the employee always knows it.

Here I will concede immediately that, in the case of a genuine and binding contractual agreement, I'd agree with at least 75% of your argument. The fact that most employees lack a binding contract, however, makes it impossible for me to agree with most of it.

This I do agree with:

'...in choosing to work for a particular company one voluntarily cedes certain rights. Private industry has "the right" to make employees sit in little cubicles, wear ridiculous uniforms or even sing a "Happy Birthday" song for dumb-ass customers if that's what they choose to do.'

I agree with that one hundred percent. However, I don't believe that right is unlimited and open-ended. Civil society, for the most part, does not either... or at least did not. Modern civil society has placed limits on what the employer has the right to demand. 20 hour work days are not considered within the employer's rights, as one example. Nor is the firing of an employee for a disability.

I'd contend that it is an entirely reasonable limit to say that an employer's rights do not include the right to search and seizure without probably cause. I include the last two words because I agree it is also entirely correct for an employer to test an employee for drugs if they have reason to believe the employee is high. I'll also go on the record as saying someone who gets high at work obviously deserves to be fired.

I simply do not believe that the payment of an hourly wage entitles corporate employers to the absolute power over their employees' lives they are gradually reassuming and expanding.