Debate Club

Welfare Assistance Is Not Parental Oversight

By SHARE

We don't want parents on welfare using their money for drugs. Although drug abuse by anyone can endanger life and livelihoods, drug abuse by mothers and fathers may endanger their children. Who is caring for the kids when adults are under the influence?

[GOP: Drug Tests for Unemployment Applicants.]

But drug testing for everyone who receives aid through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, program is not the answer. TANF is the centerpiece of the welfare reforms of 1996 that replaced the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children. One of the key changes to the program was the requirement that those receiving aid move into jobs or "workfare" programs. Recipients must work as soon as they are job-ready, or no later than two years after coming on assistance. That means that states are moving aid recipients into jobs and kicking people off the rolls regardless. The number of family aid recipients has dropped from over 12 million in 1996 to less than 4.5 million in 2010—and this despite a 3 percent rise in the unemployment rate. The program is a far cry from the welfare stereotypes of the 1980s.

Since TANF is temporary assistance for families in financial trouble, there is no particular reason to suspect them of drug use or target them for drug testing. Florida's recent foray into drug testing for its welfare recipients netted only a 2 percent positive rate. National surveys place the rate of illegal drug use at 6 to 8 percent of respondents. Lawmakers have not established that TANF recipients—with low incomes and a strong need for employment—are more likely to have drug problems than others who receive government benefits.

[Neither Left Nor Right Have Answer to Economic Conundrum.]

What about the children? Parental drug use may be dangerous to their families. But drug testing for TANF benefits won't protect public safety. The Supreme Court has upheld drug testing of railway engineers and U.S. Customs agents because of the dangers of drug use in those particular jobs. The testing in those cases was designed to keep drug users out of positions where they could harm the public. A positive TANF test would only mean that the user doesn't get financial assistance. How does that help their children? Child welfare agencies are charged with protecting kids from abuse and neglect; they have the tools to step in when drug use threatens a child's safety. TANF drug testing will only deprive needy families of money.

Workfare recipients have only committed the crime of poverty. There is no reason to suspect them of drug use simply for needing assistance, and no reason to penalize the children for their parents' sins.

Matthew Bodie

About Matthew Bodie Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Saint Louis University School of Law

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drugs
Congress
unemployment
Republican Party

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#1
1,078 Pts
Welfare Programs Should Promote Self-sufficiency

Yes – Welfare Programs Should Promote Self-sufficiency

Robert Rector Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation

#2
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Practice Has Been Upheld By Courts in New Jersey, Texas, and Indiana

Yes – Practice Has Been Upheld By Courts in New Jersey, Texas, and Indiana

Jack Kingston U.S. Representative, Georgia's 1st District

#4
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The Result Could Well Be More Drug Addiction

Yes – The Result Could Well Be More Drug Addiction

Lawrence M. Mead Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University and Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

#5
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Participation in Welfare Is Not Voluntary

No – Participation in Welfare Is Not Voluntary

Peter Cappelli George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School and Director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources

#7
-527 Pts
Mandatory Drug Testing Demonizes and Demoralizes

No – Mandatory Drug Testing Demonizes and Demoralizes

Vanita Gupta Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union

#8
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Only Winners Are Companies Making the Drug Tests

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Joy Moses Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress

#9
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Say No to Drug Testing the Unemployed

No – Say No to Drug Testing the Unemployed

Christine L. Owens Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project

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