Representative Steve Drazkowski (R - Mazeppa) has been much in the news lately, mostly for introducing a bill requiring anyone applying for long-term welfare benefits to undergo drug and alcohol screening. The back and forth taking place over the issue has been a good lesson on the difference between liberal and conservative viewpoints.
Drazkowski has been getting it good and hard for a number of supposed sins, first of all, perpetuating the stereotype that most welfare recipients are also drug users or drunkards. Instead, they are characterized as the deserving poor, down on their luck, mothers who must feed their hungry children, and the very downtrodden of the world.
It has been suggested that Drazkowski should also have to pee into the cup before he can receive his state legislator’s paycheck and, indeed, everyone else who lays claim to taxpayer dollars, which would of course include teachers, government workers, cops, and firefighters. But wait a second – the latter two categories already must pass drug tests, as do many who apply for all sorts of jobs in the private sector. (Do you suppose this humiliates them, and shakes their self esteem?)
So is there then a stereotype that everyone is likely to be a dope fiend or alcoholic? No, but the test is there to weed out those who are, and they undeniably exist all across the spectrum.
The notion that all who get a check from the state should have to be drug-tested ignores a major distinction, that between a paycheck and a handout. How does doing one’s job and taking responsibility for one’s own life and livelihood equate to falling into dependency and requiring public assistance? And if, in fact, a welfare applicant is a mother with dependent children, why is it mean to say yes, the state will assist you, but your part of the bargain is to stay off drugs and alcohol to help ensure that those public dollars will be spent prudently and that you will stay in a condition to care for your children responsibly?
It is of course true that many need public assistance through no fault of their own and will get back on their feet with a little help from the state, money well spent. It is also undeniable that others will require assistance as a consequence of their bad behavior and bad choices. Policy discouraging those behaviors and choices is prudent and responsible; those which enable them are stupid and irresponsible. Enabling a mother who has dependent children to get drunk or smoke crack has nothing to do with compassion, but is certainly uncaring of and callous towards those little ones.
And what of another big element in the welfare population, the fraudsters and spongers from out of state? They too exist, as most everyone has known for years, and is proven by the recent analysis of where the Minnesota welfare system Electronic Benefits Transfer cards have been used to draw cash. Drazkowski points out that in September alone, 54,000 of those transactions took place in states other than Minnesota, including Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. A no drug or alcohol policy will automatically eliminate most of this fraud and chase off applicants from other places who are drawn to Minnesota’s welfare magnet. How can that be characterized as uncompassionate, or anything but sensible and responsible.
Those who for whatever reason think welfare should be handed out willy-nilly to whomever asks for it scoff at attempts to reform the system because those reforms will not immediately eliminate our budget deficit. But how will that deficit ever be trimmed if we don’t start somewhere and, in any case, what excuse is there for waste or fraud or money spent unwisely, deficit or no?