-Sen. Nick Harper
Imagine losing your job. It isn't hard to do, millions of Americans are looking for work right now. This is still a time of need for so many in our state, and for those who have lost jobs there is a considerable amount of pride that needs to be swallowed before they seek financial assistance. Now imagine, when you ask for that help, you are treated with suspicion and forced to an invasion of privacy typically reserved for criminals.
Sadly, if Sen. Don Benton gets his way, there will be many who won’t have to imagine this.
The economy is slowly improving, but it is still hitting some in this state very hard. The blows continue especially for those at the bottom of the economic spectrum. Benton’s Senate Bill 5585 seeks to condemn those in need by way of unwarranted and unnecessary suspicion, at great cost to tax payers and even greater detriment to our social morality.
SB 5585, which is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday, would drug test families seeking assistance benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program – otherwise known as welfare.
This has been attempted in many states but implemented in only seven because in addition to being disgusting, it has also been shown to be a waste of money. In Florida for example, the program tested over 4,000 families for controlled substances and only 108 of them failed the tests, mostly due to marijuana (which of course is now legal in Washington State). The cost to Florida taxpayers exceeded $45,000, even after taking into account the money no longer being spent on those who were removed from assistance.
This figure also does not account for the high cost of the legal battle that ensued – one that would inevitably occur in Washington as well if this bill were enacted. Among the states that have also tried this are Louisiana, which has failed to pass a similar measure five consecutive years amid concerns of cost and constitutionality, and in Michigan, where it was found to be unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment, which protects citizens from unlawful search and seizure.
Just last week in Virginia, a similar bill died when a bipartisan majority voted it down.
I realize that empathy in the Republican Party is about as fashionable as powdered wigs, so rather than try to convince them that this is wrong on a moral level, I’ll try to appeal to their wallets instead.
What do you think will happen to a person who has their last financial lifeline reduced or eliminated? Desperate people end up costing taxpayers one way or the other. They’ll end up in our court system, our jails, our emergency rooms – all things that cost significantly more than what we afford a family receiving TANF benefits.
The notion that all poor people, or people who receive government assistance are somehow gaming the system or averse to hardwork is incorrect and unfair. This type of legislation perpetuates that myth.