Saturday, July 09, 2011

Is Forced Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients Racist?

Photo Credit: micahb37
My governor in Florida, Rick Scott, is catching some flack for recently signing legislation that requires the state's welfare recipients to submit to drug testing.  Some are arguing that this requirement is unfairly targeting the poor and others claim it is racist as it selectively targets African American citizens.

Surprisingly, a recent poll conducted by Black Planet/News One found that nearly 8 out of 10 African Americans favored drug screening for those applying for federal assistance.  Although there tends to be a stereotype in our society that the bulk of welfare recipients are single black women with multiple children who perpetually remain on public assistance, that belief is simply not supported by the facts.

Although African Americans are disproportionally represented among welfare recipients, the majority of those participating in the government's social welfare program are not black.  In fact, there are nearly as many white Americans that receive aid as black Americans.  Furthermore, the average number of children in households receiving aid is 1.8 (see 2008 report) and the Office for Family Assistance has a number of requirements in place for those applying for aid and incentives for those engaging in responsible behavior.

The fact that the vast majority of African Americans who were polled support drug screening for those applying for welfare assistance is not surprising to me.  The bulk of black Americans are hard working, law abiding individuals that want safe communities like we all do.  They do not want drug abusers to continue in their addiction due to governmental aid going to their habit.

During a couple of summers while I was in college, I worked at a power plant doing manual labor.  In order to get hired, I had to submit to a drug test each summer.  I didn't look at it as a particular invasion of my privacy but a necessary measure since I would be operating heavy equipment that could put lives in danger if operated by someone on drugs.  Since I wasn't using drugs, I didn't have anything to fear.  I would imagine it would be similar for those under Florida's new law. 

There are a number of issues, though, that are raised in implementing a law like this, particularly questions about personal privacy that will likely be addressed in the courts.
"In 2000 a United States District Court held that a Michigan law requiring “suspicionless drug testing” of all welfare recipients fell afoul of the fourth amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Mr Scott’s other initiative also has fourth amendment problems. In 1997 the United States Supreme Court found a Georgia statute requiring candidates for public office to be drug tested failed to show a need pressing enough to “suppress the fourth amendment’s normal requirement of individualised suspicion.” And in 2000 a Florida district court found that reassuring the public that state workers are not using drugs—which is Mr Scott’s rationale for testing employees—was similarly insufficient to justify blanket searches."
It seems to me that those that would be most bothered by a policy like this are those who are drug users looking to receive governmental assistance.  The courts may end up finding this policy as being unnecessary invasions of privacy but to say it is racist doesn't ring true for me since drug abuse knows no class and people in need of governmental assistance knows no race.  


J. Hill said...

I fully support drug testing. I don't think it's a one and done issue but there must be parameters set. It's not racist. It's needed. I'm glad that you quoted the facts concerning who is on welfare. That stereotype is believed even among blacks. Many blacks have and have had conservative values. If you gave a blind questionaire on policy proposals I dare to say most black people would surprise themselves and come out on the conservative side.

scottmcrocker said...

You're probably right, James.