Welfare Recipients Should Be Drug Tested Essay Examples
Welfare has remained a contentious and politically divisive issue that American politicians and scholars alike have continued to engage in dialogue about. Welfare recipients, due to their impoverished socioeconomic status, often turn to substance abuse for repose, which conversely functions as a major barrier to their sociability, work performance, and overall well-being (Pollack et al., 2002, p. 256). Since the 1970s, republicans and neoconservatives time and again have proposed legislation and a litany of public policies that grant state governments and institutions the power to mandate and enforce drug tests for welfare recipients. Some state governments have already implemented and enforced mandatory drug screenings for welfare recipients due to the nexus between welfare and rampant substance abuse. New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Oregon, Nevada, and Indiana have all experimented with idiosyncratic forms of such legislation despite the fact that the constitutionality of each state’s respective laws has been questioned and debated in the political arena (“Should Welfare Recipients be Tested For Drugs?”, 2011). Michigan became the first state in 1999 to pass a watershed program that stipulated and forced welfare recipients to undergo chemical blood testing as a prerequisite (Douglas et al., 2003, p. 7). Critics decry mandatory drug testing because they assert that not only does it violate the constitutional rights and personal liberties of Americans citizens, but also will further drive the country into debt due to the costly and often ineffective nature of such drug testing as a means to deter the consumption of illicit drugs. Such a draconian and punitive approach to combating diffuse unemployment would most likely deter individuals and families in need from seeking necessary help in the form of counseling, psychiatric evaluations, and from receiving unemployment benefits needed for survival, especially amidst trying economic times. Nonetheless, drug testing for welfare recipients should be mandatory to ensure that welfare programs instill the value of self-sufficiency by overseeing that unemployed and struggling Americans do not use taxpayers’ money on purchasing and consuming illicit substances rather than on necessary amenities. Many state courts have already upheld this unconventional and unprecedented legal practice in order to discourage perpetual dependence on state services. Ultimately, mandatory drug testing promotes the overall well-being of welfare recipients by deterring them from becoming addicted to illicit drugs while encouraging them to seek self-sufficiency and avoid total dependence on social spending and handouts.
Welfare programs have not always been racialized as they are today. During the second half of the twentieth century, the construction of the United States as a “welfare state” emerged, which covertly produced violence stemming from the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 in which Nixon reasoned that those who depended on welfare had something endemically wrong with them, thereby blaming poverty on human infallibility rather than on structural and institutional failures and prejudices. This logic thus blames black women for not teaching their children upright moral values, which thereby perpetuated state dependency and criminality by people on the streets. Nixon blames welfare for all of the problems that were occurring in the United States during his tumultuous presidency during the 1970s, thereby scapegoating single, African-American mothers by identifying them as “welfare queens.” He assumed that that blacks and whites have equal chance of succeeding in the United States, as everyone retained the ability to participate in workforce. Nixon’s skewed belief that everyone can participate in the labor system ignores the structural component of racism in job market and thus merges state dependency and criminality during this time period. Indeed, female-headed families are to blame for not teaching kids proper morals and thus fosters state dependency and, by association, increasing crimes by people on the streets. Civil Rights Act of 1965 does not allow the U.S. institutions to organize along racial lines, which was significant that in this time period the welfare state/state dependency is the filter through which we view racial issues
The dependency and production of the “welfare queen” originates from the early 1900s when the racial order was directly linked to motherhood. In the landmark Supreme Court decision for Roe vs. Wade in 1973, abortion became a legal practice constructed on the notion that if an individual is poor and has children yet cannot adequately support their children it is their own personal fault. The discursive shift from “deserving” to “undeserving” welfare recipients proliferated in public discourses, especially when Ronald Reagan began to actively involve himself in American politics by running for president. In a presidential campaign speech he delivered in 1976, Reagan discussed the welfare queen and told the audience that he had compiled information on various women who were welfare recipients. Ultimately, the constructs the welfare queen as a parasite who was lazy and used state resources because she did not want to work (Ngai, 2004). As such, a racialized image of black, single mothers emerged and constructed them as criminals for being “welfare queens.” Concurrently, a so-called “War on Drugs” was taking place as part and parcel of a law and order society jumpstarted by Nixon. Discourses on illicit drug use and selling portrayed members of subaltern communities as predisposed to criminality within the production of crime vis-à-vis state policies. Nixon constructs crime through his compilation of different welfare queens in his description of the “welfare queen,” which has had a profound impact in the present day.
Substance abuse amongst recipients of welfare and the legislative responses to state and national trends have recently garnered much scholarly attention and public debate. While twenty percent of welfare recipients have reported their recent use of illicit drugs, only a miniscule percentage of them actually meet the established criteria for alcohol or drug dependence (Pollack et al., 2002, p. 256). The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act shifted the purpose and nature of welfare and public assistance as a means to cultivate less dependence on social safety networks such as welfare and food stamps. Welfare reform in 1996 also increased pressure on the work expectations for welfare recipients, which posed new challenges for public administrators and researchers when confronted with the heterogeneity of the abilities of welfare users from relying on public assistance and become self-sufficient vis-à-vis the fruits of their own labor. Furthermore, welfare reform specifically targeted those who were substance users despite the relatively low prevalence and numbers of illicit drug consumers amongst the welfare population (p. 257). The 1996 Gramm Amendment stipulated that any welfare users who had been convicted of felonies related to the possession, distribution, and/or consumption of illegal drug use, possession, and/or distribution would be banned for life from receiving food stamps and other forms of public assistance (p. 258). Drug consumption usually takes place within the privacy of one’s own home or as a hidden that makes it hard to adequately quantify its prevalence within the welfare community. Indeed, the data that has already been collected has been derived and gleaned from self-reporting (p. 259). Even when drug use prevalence becomes public knowledge, it is nonetheless still challenging to analyze and assess the ramifications of such behavior on the both the consumers and on others (p. 261). Establishing a clear-cut causal relationship between illicit drug consumption and a predisposition to being forced to rely on welfare therefore cannot assertively be made. The changing ubiquity of substance use and dependence amongst welfare recipients have nonetheless called into question the feasibility of punitive laws and draconian government policies such as mandated chemical drug testing in order to detect substance abuse and punish users.
Critics of mandatory drug testing further underscore the unconstitutional and often futile nature of such a punitive approach to social spending. In April 2003, a federal appeals court gutted a program to test the drug consumption of welfare recipients and prevalence in Michigan under the premise that such a program directly violated fundamental American constitutional rights. The program survived only five weeks prior to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charge that it violated the Fourth Amendment—which safeguarded American citizens from enduring any unreasonable search and seizure carried out by the police—while also invading the sanctioned privacy of recipients. ACLU representatives have publically stated that if the federal government sanctions similar programs to the one in Michigan creates a slippery slope whereby similar logic could be used for all state programs, including who was competent and trust-worthy enough to apply for a driver’s license (Douglas et al., 2003, p. 8). The United States has always touted its fundamental values of liberty and freedom, thereby prioritizing the rights of individuals while curtailing government agency and transcending the divide between public and privacy. Indeed, the notion of liberty is central to this contentious issue. Mandating drug testing for welfare recipients without any jus or probable creates a dangerous precedent considering the fact that the majority of welfare recipients interviewed do not voluntarily choose to be on welfare and thus refuse to consent with state-mandated drug testing (Capelli, 2011). State legislators from over thirty-six states have proposed policies that require the drug testing of welfare recipients, but the failure of such legislation to manifest any of its promise reveals the futility of such arbitrary laws, their costliness, and the untenable nature of such punitive, draconian, and prejudicial policies (Vanita, 2011). Thus, it is clear that mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients perpetuates the historical trend of denying members of low-income, impoverished communities—often predominated by non-white bodies—the same constitutional protections that all Americas are purportedly entitled to.
Despite the potential drawbacks of welfare drug testing, it is nonetheless unequivocal that the nexus between substance abuse and welfare dependency is common and presents a drain on American resources due to the loss of productivity, lack of self-sufficiency, and prolonged use of welfare services. Diffuse alcohol and illicit drug consumption pose immense and significant barriers to self-sufficiency, so welfare recipients should be subject to mandatory chemical blood testing in order to make sure that those on welfare are steered on the right path rather than rendering them static and dependent on state social services. Surveys and studies reveal that over sixty five percent of local and state welfare program directors of alcohol and drug treatment programs and services were critical in divorcing recipients from dependency in relation to the welfare system (Pollack et al., 2002, p. 259). Studies also show that the U.S. government spends over $900 billion a year on a plethora of welfare programs, which include Social Security, Medical, and Unemployment Insurance, among other state-sponsored programs that provide people adequate housing, food, and some cash. However, public aid should not and cannot become open-ended entitlements funded at the expense of the taxpayers. Rather, mandatory drug testing forces welfare recipients to behave in a responsible and constructive manner as a prerequisite for the reception of welfare aid. Curtailing the illicit drug use is indeed a central component of the aforementioned mutuality, as American taxpayers want to make sure that their taxes paid to the state is spent on those who not only actually need welfare to survive but also to Americans who would not waste it on self-destructive activities such as drug and alcohol consumption and abuse. The design of welfare programs must remain oriented towards the promotion of self-help, self-sufficiency, and employment in healthy adults while discouraging a perpetual dependence on government spending and social services(Rector, 2011). Thus, well-designed welfare programs should mandate drug testing as a vital component of any effective strategy to transition welfare recipients from welfare dependency to self-sufficiency vis-à-vis hard work.
Mandated drug testing would not only ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being wasted and spent on those who apply for it to buy and consume illicit drugs. It also facilitates the treatment process for public assistance recipients by giving them a tempting incentive to undergo substance abuse treatment programs. By seeking help, recipients would have the opportunity to regain their health and help them support their families by making valuable contributions to a society that has been discursively framed as a welfare stat that was constructed to assist the needy and the impoverished. Random drug screenings would help public officials identify recipients who are dependent and help them overcome one of the biggest impediments and obstacles they will face during their lives. Both democrats and republicans recognize that government programs should never cultivate and/or sustain a lifetime dependence of individuals on government assistance and social spending. Rather, welfare, among with other programs, should merely act as a safeguard and a safety net that is limited in scope yet still help people regain their autonomy and self-sufficiency (Vitter, 2011). Welfare recipients who remove themselves from the hiring pool due to their substance abuse and drug habits should not be able to reap the benefits of an American welfare system that aims at helping the needy to order to close the chasm between the rich and the poor in the present day. Some states have upheld legislation that forces welfare recipients to undergo non-invasive procedures that function as a litmus test for the enjoyment of welfare benefits. Furthermore, such tests would not increase any federal spending or drive the United States further into debt (Kingston, 2011). Requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing for them to remain eligible and able to work thus is not as draconian in nature as it sounds because of the pragmatism and the commonsense logic salient during a destabilized epoch with regards to the economy.
The issue of welfare has preoccupied the domestic agendas of various American presidents that span the political continuum since the 1990s when Bill Clinton passed an unprecedented and paradigm-shifting overhaul of the public aid program and the place of social services in general. As the national debt continues to escalate in an exponential fashion, it is clear that the government cannot afford to frivolously spend tax dollars on the perpetuation of bad habits for those who rely on public assistance just to scrape by and survive. Many politicians decry the system of welfare currently in place because it foments dependency on state services while also facilitating and often exacerbating their substance abuse. Welfare programs should rather promote and instill traditionally conservative values such as self-sufficiency and self-help that would ensure that people only experience ephemeral dependence. Studies have demonstrated that an intrinsic link between welfare use and drug addiction exists. Without providing an incentive for welfare recipients to quit illicit drug consumption, the government would merely exacerbate and perpetuate the drug addition of welfare users which fostered perpetual dependence. Critics of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients point not only to its legally untenable and immoral dimensions but also to the fact that it is immoral and baseless to demonize welfare recipients as criminals as a result of their poverty. Moreover, such punitive laws set a dangerous precedent that would enable state governments to mandate similar requirements for other state programs. Required drug-testing has received bipartisan support for as a key means to wane people off dependence of public assistance.
Cappeli, P. (2011, December 15). Participation in welfare is not voluntary. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-welfare- recipients-be-tested-for-drugs/participation-in-welfare-is-not-voluntary
Delva, J., Trinidad, A., & Jarmon, B. (2000). Characteristics of Welfare Recipients That Seek Drug Treatment in the U.S. Race, Gender & Class, 7(4), 77-90.
Douglas, C. A., McCauley, M., Ostrow, M., & Wimbrow, M. (2003). United States: federal court repeals welfare drug-test program. Off Our Backs, 33(5/6), 7-8.
Gupta, V. (2011, December 15). Mandatory drug testing demonizes and demoralizes. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should- welfare-recipients-be-tested-for-drugs/mandatory-drug-testing-demonizes-and- demoralizes
Kingston, J. (2011, December 15). Practice Has Been Upheld By Courts in New Jersey, Texas, and Indiana. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-welfare-recipients-be-tested-for- drugs/practice-has-been-upheld-by-courts-in-new-jersey-texas-and-indiana
Mead, L. M. (2011, December 15). The result could well be more drug addiction. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should- welfare-recipients-be-tested-for-drugs/the-result-could-well-be-more-drug-addiction
Moses, J. (2011, December 15). Only winners are companies making the drug tests. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should- welfare-recipients-be-tested-for-drugs/only-winners-are-companies-making-the-drug- tests
Pollack, H. A., Danziger, S., Seefeldt, K. S., & Jayakody, R. (2002). Substance use among welfare recipients: trends and policy responses. Social Service Review, 76(2), 256-274.
Rector, R. (2011, December 15). Welfare programs should promote self-sufficiency. US News. Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should- welfare-recipients-be-tested-for-drugs/welfare-programs-should-promote-self-sufficiency
Should Welfare Recipients be Drug Tested?. (n.d.). US News. Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-welfare-recipients-be-tested-for-drugs
Vitter, D. (2011, December 15). Debate Club Government Programs Should Not Encourage Lifelong Dependency. US News. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-welfare-recipients-be-tested-for- drugs/government-programs-should-not-encourage-lifelong-dependency
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