It hit Facebook that Kentucky has passed a law requiring random drug tests for food stamp and Medicaid recipients. Can’t pass the test? Can’t get benefits.
That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.
Kentucky HB 208 hasn’t passed, but it has been submitted and has the backing of the Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo. (Here’s a link to the text of Kentucky HB 208)
The news article I read revealed a stunning disconnect from reality. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ronnie Napier, says:
“I’m not a hard-hearted guy,” said Napier. “I believe there is a need for public assistance for those who need it, but I understand some are using these funds to buy drugs.”
Napier said the goal “is to get people off drugs.”
“Most employers require it for their workers,” he said of drug testing. “We need to do the same for those getting assistance through the state.”
…Instead of harming children, Napier said, the proposal would help protect kids from parents who abuse drugs. “Who would want their children raised in an environment where money is being used for drugs instead of groceries?” he asked.
Really? Does he think that parents just don’t realize they have a substance abuse problem, and then when they don’t pass a drug test they’ll suddenly have a revelation about their parenting skills? That a mother with a meth addiction will see the light and realize that she doesn’t want her children raised where drugs are more important than groceries, that a mother with a cocaine habit can even think rationally about anyone or anything besides getting her next hit?
The bill states that adult recipients will have to undergo a blood or urine test when they first get assistance, and then each year thereafter, assigned randomly.
There is no help for any of the people who might fail. Currently Medicaid only covers substance abuse treatment for children or pregnant women- and a failed test cancels Medicaid. So essentially, if a mother is a drug user and on welfare, there is no outside help for her at all. She’s expected to suddenly and swiftly end all drug use immediately, on her own which is ignorant and naive.
I do not know how Napier thinks that denying prenatal care to addicted women is going to protect babies.
The bill does not even address how someone denied food stamp (now called SNAP) benefits for failing a drug test can prove she’s clean, reapply or get reinstated. It doesn’t detail how many failed drug tests are too many. It allows the state to start compiling a list of known drug users (only poor ones, naturally) with children but doesn’t even pretend that the bill is “for the children” or offer anything to the kids to help them cope with an addicted parent. Instead it strikes them from the rolls, further marginalizing already vulnerable children and babies.
This will not help people “get off drugs”. If parents were motivated simply by the thought of a better life for their kids and could quit cold turkey, they already would have. Taking food away from the kids will raise stress levels and lower ability to cope with real life. How does that discourage drug use?
I’m also disturbed by Napier’s equivocating drug testing for food stamps with the drug testing employers do. SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid is not employment. You don’t “earn” it by staying clean.
The heart of the matter, however, is the children. The SNAP program exists, in part, to make sure America’s children get enough food. Food stamps might be the only way kids of drug addicts get anything at all. Are we really going to take away milk and bread from toddlers because their mother failed a drug test?
The drug testing isn’t even fair, but serves to stigmatize welfare recipients. Are many SNAP beneficiaries drug users? Yes. But are we going to start testing all citizens who benefit from state programs? WIC clients? What if your kids are in public schools, being educated by public funds? Is the next step refusing to teach children of drug users how to read, as they are refused lunch and dinner because of their mom or dad’s problem?
This doesn’t even address households where there is a mom and a dad. Yes, two parent households receive SNAP and Medicaid. What if Dad smokes a joint every night, but Mom doesn’t? Do both parents in the house have to pass the tests, or will children continue to receive medical care as long as one parent is clean? I think that would be discrimination against single parent households. Perhaps the regulations will require the “clean” adult to separate households from the drug user, fracturing families.
I can’t even imagine the impact on public health. If children have no medical coverage, and their parents are addicted to drugs, are we to think that they’ll somehow manage to scrape up money for the doctor when their child gets a nasty cough or has a bad fall? Often, moms will manage to get their children to a medical clinic when they are sick if they have Medicaid, even if they use drugs. But if forced to pay out pocket, suddenly kids will stop getting their vaccinations. Stop getting treated for pink eye, the flu, bronchitis, strep. Those kids will be sitting next to others at school, walking around the grocery store, playing on the playground, and spreading contagious illness.
Untreated sicknesses can cause devastating lifelong complications that will affect the kids quality of life and, since this is supposedly about saving money, their ability to become contributing members of society with jobs. I predict that if passed, this bill will be pennywise and pound foolish. Yes, it will save a few bucks right now but in the future the rolls of those too disabled to work will swell as children of drug users, raised without treatment for high fevers, broken bones, raging ear infections, and not enough food, come of age.
Let’s think long term. Will a childhood marked by not enough food, nutritional deficiencies, untreated ear infections, and not a single trip to the dentist help break the cycle of poverty? Will this allow and encourage future generations to do well in school, earn athletic scholarships, do better, and not rely on the state?
Shame on Rep. Napier for trying to move Kentucky towards a Dickensian future, where children are only as good as their parents and there’s only starvation and untreated illness in the future of kids who happen to be born into families with substance abuse problems.