While technically accurate, the main title for this article is an egregious misinterpretation of the facts. Some might call it a lie. It was written using cherry picked facts that advance a narrative appealing to the preconceived ideological notions of many. It is a headline forged in the tradition of current day biased media. It is as truthful and factually based as other headlines related to the story that read “Only 0.3% of Welfare Recipients Screened for Drug Use Test Positive.”
Here are the facts. The Republican majority North Carolina legislature passed a bill that required new Welfare recipients or those reapplying for be
nefits to be screened for drug use. The Democratic governor vetoed the bill. The legislature then overrode the veto making the bill law in the state. I think it is safe to say that if Welfare was an important topic for you in North Carolina, you followed the story and understood the nuances.
What did the law mandate? New or renewal applicants for Welfare in the state were required to undergo screening. “Screening” by no stretch of the imagination meant you had to pee into a cup. In this case, screening consisted of review of their case by a social worker and required the applicant to answer one question. If the applicant was found guilty of a felony drug charge in the last three years or if they (on their own accord) answered “yes” when asked if they had used drugs within the last 12 months, they were referred for actual testing. Hardly a draconian process given the fact that an applicant, having just smoked crack, shot up heroin and popped a Percocet immediately before answering the question, could avoid testing just by answering “No.”
Of 7600 applicants screened, 2% (about 150) were referred for actual testing, which cost about $55. About half never showed up to be tested. They were denied benefits. Of those who showed up to be tested, 25% were positive. Of those, only half were denied full benefits mainly because dependent children were involved in the case.
Enter the liberally biased media. If you do the math, about 20 positive tests were found. Even students of Common Core can tell you (eventually) that 20/7600 = 0.3%. Liberal conclusions: “Republicans have egg on their face,” “drug use is vanishingly rare in the Welfare population,” “taxpayers should be outraged at the waste of taypayer dollars,” “Republicans have no compassion.”
Let’s be honest about both the process and the results. Illegal drug use is a problem in the Welfare population. Even with the most minimal screening, 2% of the applicant pool was found to be at high risk for drug use. Certainly, a measurable number of applicants answered untruthfully when asked about their drug use, making that 2% number a low estimate of the problem. A large number of those referred for testing never showed. There are lots of reasons for this, especially in a financially “at risk” population. While child care, transportation and a variety of other social barriers might in part explain the high no-show rate, a measurable number of applicants likely did not show because they knew they would test positive. That means that actual drug use in the pre-selected population is much higher than 25%. Cost to the taxpayer: 75 x $55 =$4,125 (plus administrative fees and social worker salary support). About 100 applicants were denied benefits. While a dollar figure of savings might be attributed to this fact, a much larger social debt was probably incurred. Which leads me to my next point.
Addiction and use of illegal drugs is an important factor that not only leads to but traps people in poverty. Simply punishing someone for having such a crushing problem is as useless a response as denying that the problem exists. Although North Carolina Republicans might feel vindicated that their law confirmed their suspicions, the moral high road will escape them if they fail to offer a meaningful solution. Personally I believe all Welfare recipients should undergo drug testing but only if a positive result does not only lead to punitive measures. Perhaps when tested positive, the applicant is required to undergo counseling and addiction rehabilitation services in order to receive full benefits. Responses such as that ultimately offer an escape route from the poverty. However, freedom can only come with accountability for one’s choices. In this case, if such services were refused or ignored, benefits should be denied.