In the first few weeks of the new legislative sessions, lawmakers in at least 8 states have proposed bills to impose drug tests on applicants to family safety net programs.
Last year I reported that Republican state legislators went on something of a frenzy proposing bills that require recipients of safety net benefits to pass drug tests. Despite repeated court decisions that the laws are unconstitutional, state lawmakers are at it again this year. And they’ve added some new ideas for lambasting safety net programs too.
Since there’s little evidence that welfare, food stamp and unemployment insurance applicants use assistance to bankroll addictions, critics say the laws are little more than slander.
Beyond drug testing, legislatures are expanding their repertoires.
A Tennessee lawmaker introduced legislation last week to stop welfare payments to parents if their kids get bad grades in school. The sponsor, State Senator Stacey Campfield said, "One of the top tickets to break the chain of poverty is education." But he added, "We have done little to hold [parents] accountable for their child’s performance."
The bill would chop nearly a third of family’s Temporary Aid for Needy Families benefits, already a pittance, if their child fails to pass state competency tests or get’s held back. How exactly the threat to make poor people poorer will improve educational outcomes isn’t at all clear.
And last month, North Carolina lawmakers got excited about banning poor people on welfare from buying lottery tickets. The Republican state representative who floated the idea has since backed off, but the hoopla over the proposal may already have pegged poverty to irresponsible spending.
It’s just February 7th, which means there’s plenty of time for more states to get on board.