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Limiting Public Benefits
The United States economy is in serious trouble and the individual state economies are not faring much better. In times such as these, those elected into public office are called upon to find ways to save money and to help the struggling nation become strong again. For individual people living in America, the economy has directly impacted their everyday lives. Many people are out of work and more and more families are becoming dependant on financial assistance from either the state or federal government in order to keep going. When there is no money to spend on food or clothing or shelter, the families suffer terribly. The government instituted public assistance and unemployment to help families who are in desperate need. One of the ways that politicians, particularly Republicans, have suggested for alleviating the government's financial responsibilities is to demand that all people who apply for governmental benefits pass a drug test which some human rights activists have stated is an unfair requirement and will only punish the children of adults who are unable to pass such a test and also serves to prove the conflict between social classes can impact the larger society.
The Social Conflict Theory is a sociological idea that there is a disparity between peoples which begins and ends with the amount of money that they have. Those who have more money have a disproportionate amount of power in a society and the groups with the least amount of money have the least amount of power, if indeed they have any at all. Karl Marx argued that the wealthy intentionally stratify the population based upon the lines of wealth in order to ensure that they are at the top of this hierarchy and are unlikely to face opposition from peoples in lower social orders (Marx 1971). A major difference between Marx and Weber, two of the leading theorists on social conflict is that Marx defines class and wealth in terms of the ownership of property. In his viewpoint, it is unlikely that those who are granted government aid would be in a high social class because their financial predicament puts them in the position of needing money so it is unlikely that they will have property on which to base their class (Rummel 1977). According to this perspective, it can be argued that those in positions of wealth are intentionally withholding money to the population not really based upon their drug abuse but because the wealthy want poor people to remain poor and destitute to ensure that those with wealth retain their positions of power.
Weber argues that people compete for economic gain and this economic issue is what continues to divide societies. His perspective seems to have more applicability to this current issue in American society. The moneys that are given to people on welfare, unemployment, and other social programs are all obtained through taxation of the working population. Some of the strongest support for drug testing of public assistance recipients has come from the middle class workers of the United States. According to this perception, conflict emerges when factions desire opposing things and only one side is likely to receive their wishes granted (Rummel 1976). Many comments have been made along the same lines: that drug testing is allowed in American jobs and that in order to receive the hard-earned money of middle class Americans, the people should have to prove that they are not misusing those funds for illegal recreations. The belief which is encouraged by lawmakers that those on public assistance are more likely to be immoral or irresponsible serves to further divide the people in poverty from those in the middle classes, extending the class divide and removing the danger that the middle class and lower classes might align in some way against the upper classes.
An article published on February 4, 2013 in the San Francisco Chronicle discusses a Nevada bill which would require applicants for public assistance in that state to pass a drug test before benefits were provided (MacPherson 2013). The reasoning behind this legislation is that there is a fear that a large percentage of the people in our culture who apply for aid are actually not in real need but simply do not wish to work or who misuse the monies given them to purchase illicit drugs. Drug testing ensures that this is not happening and that tax payer money is going to people who generally need the money and who will spend it responsibly and appropriately. The hope is also that the requirement will reduce drug use because people who need assistance will realize that they cannot use narcotics and get the money that they need so they will seek help for their drug addictions. Those who oppose the proposed legislation and laws like it posit that the laws serve to punish the poor for needing public assistance, prolong the application process, and punish children of drug addicts who have committed no offenses themselves and who need the money to feed themselves.
Several states have already put into place legislation which demands drug testing for people who go on welfare, unemployment, or other types of public assistance including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families also known as TANF (Gupta 2011). Those who support such measures insist that testing for public assistance is no different than drug testing in any occupation. In the United States, people in certain jobs must submit to mandatory drug testing and if they are found to prove positive for drug use, they can be dismissed from their job (Thompson 2012). These people feel that those seeking assistance should be held to the same standard as other people in the work place. Exploitation of the worker is used therefore not just by those with wealth, but in this case by those in lower social standings as well. This unfortunately puts people's lives in certain jeopardy. If a person has lost his or her job and then looks to the government for help and are then subjected to drug testing which they then do no pass, they will be unable to support themselves or their families because of a drug addiction. Many people think of drug addiction as a choice but others in the medical field understand that it is an illness and the person struggles with addiction (Bloom 2011). Denying them benefits is tantamount to punishing them for a medical condition of which they have little control. Additionally, more punishment is given to women who are applying to welfare and other public assistance programs, creating a greater disparity between the potential for success of members of the female gender. Lower income families tend to be single-parent households and the majority of single-parent families have a mother and no father. In single-income households, once that salary has been removed, the mother will have no alternative but to seek financial assistance in some cases. If more women than men apply for public assistance, then there is a gender issue at play as well as a social one.
Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Michigan are among some three dozen states which have all reportedly investigated the issue of drug testing for those on public assistance and it has been determined that the cost of testing all these applicants prevents the cost benefits associated with withholding monies to these people. The testing of applicants does not save money for the government, but instead costs the government a great deal of money in testing and enforcement of testing procedures. Each test costs between $35 and $75 dollars to conduct (Bloom 2011). However, only a small percentage of the drug tests come back positive. This means that on average, a positive drug test costs the federal government between $500 and $1,000. In Florida, the rate was even less (Gupta 2011). Only 2% of the people tested in the Sunshine State tested positive for drugs. In Florida, the state reimburses the people who passed the drug test so they are at an even greater loss (Gupta 2011). The system is extremely flawed in terms of the economics involved.
In addition, legislation which has been passed demanding drug tests for those seeking aid have been shut down by higher courts because they have been ruled unconstitutional. Michigan's law regarding public assistance and drug testing was struck down on the basis that it violated the 4th Amendment to the constitution which protected citizens from unreasonable search and seizure (Bloom 2011). A Representative from Wisconsin, W. Patrick Goggles, has stated, "This legislation assumes suspicion on this group of people. It assumes they're drug abusers" (Growing 2012). This assumption is unfair and completely erroneous. Researchers have proven that only approximately 8% of people on public assistance are using any drugs. This is the same percentage of the rest of the population. The generalized other of the welfare abusing drug user does not prove to be a true person but rather a stereotyped caricature of the lower class. The data shows that being…[continue]
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