Tennessee is the latest state to admit that their efforts to shame welfare recipients with drug tests has been an abject failure. The Republican campaign to humiliate and demonize America’s working poor as “lazy moochers” led red-state governors to seize on the idea of drug testing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients. But in every state so far, the results show that only a tiny percentage of welfare recipients test positive, throwing the right-wing’s classist narrative out the window.
Think Progress reports that Tennessee implemented their testing program in 2014, adding questions related to narcotic use to their application form. A year later, “just 1.6 percent of the 28,559 people who applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the first year of testing answered one of the three screening questions positively. Out of the 468 people who peed in a state-funded cup, 11.7 percent flunked the test…55 people tested positive, and 32 applicants were ultimately denied benefits.”
Thirty-two applicants out of nearly 30,000, at a cost of some $11,000 in public funds- a figure which only includes money paid to the outside vendor which runs the actual tests. The cost of testing welfare recipients across seven states runs more than a million dollars, with absolutely nothing to show for it. When will America stop moralizing against working families and recognize that the vast majority of them are merely victims of economic forces beyond their control? When will we stop blaming them for being poor in the first place and start doing something to uplift the American people out of poverty?
In November 2013, 16% of the American population lived in poverty, up from 14.3% (approximately 43.6 million) in 2009- its highest level since 1993. It is absolutely abhorrent to see Wall Street, multinational corporations, and their ruling oligarchs blame the American people for the suffering they have wrought on our nation. Programs like these foolish welfare drug testing schemes are an insult to the struggles of the American worker, and it is vital we make the right decisions in this upcoming election and choose a President who will have the stones to stand up for the integrity of our democracy and the well-being of her people.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.