There is a movement afoot to support drug testing for welfare recipients. Several states think it’s a fine idea and are trying their best to enact the new policy.
When people first hear the idea they are generally all for it. After all, if someone is a junkie why on earth should we make their lives easier by giving them part of our hard-earned money? It is, in the words of every four-year-old on the planet, NOT FAIR!
Now here’s where I admit that I’ve had a pretty good, pretty easy life overall. I mean,sure, it’s had its moments but for the most part I’ve never been hungry for too long, never lacked for warmth on cold nights and always had plenty of reading material to get over the hump. What I know of the life of addicts on welfare comes from watching “The Wire”, reading The Corner and talking with social workers, parole officers and a few lucky people who started off in that world and made it out the other side. In other words, I’ve never been there but I know from those who have that I don’t want to visit.
I also know that welfare is pretty much the only way kids who have an addict parent can get food. One man I spoke with said that Check Day meant he could have thirty dollars to go to the market and buy eggs, rice-a-roni, crackers, spam and generic soup. The things he and his brother and sister could keep on hand to eat when their mom was drunk.
Oh yeah. That’s right. I said ‘drunk’. Not high. Because all the drug testing in the world won’t eliminate those receiving aid who are also alcoholics. So those people you imagine getting welfare money and wasting it aren’t always buying crack. Granted, if they are their kids’ stories are the same. Check Day equals Food Day.
There’s another thing that I learned when reading The Corner. No…I take that back. I learned it from this guy who worked with me in the warehouse when I was 19. If you like to get high you can pretty much find out from all your high-getting buds (heh) where in town you can by clean pi–oops–urine. (Sorry, mom. But when they talk about it, they don’t say “urine”. Especially half-baked guys in warehouses.) So I knew this twenty years ago, but in The Corner David Simon reminded me of that. He also introduced me to an enterprising young fellow on the streets of Baltimore who bought said testable urine from a day care.*
Drug-Testing welfare recipients will only guarantee two things. It will guarantee that the government wastes truckloads of dollars they could be directing elsewhere into testing pee that addicts buy from daycare or pee that gives a false positive for a non-high person who then gets cut off for no good reason. It will also guarantee that the perpetual, unwinnable War On Drugs has yet another feel-good-but-meaningless tool for violating the privacy rights of Americans.
*As with many anecdotes and characters in The Corner, Simon reused this fellow in The Wire. I swear, if you’ve read the Simon Truefact Pack (Homicide: A Year In The Killing Streets and The Corner) half the stuff in The Wire you heard before.