Indiana To Drug Test Welfare Recipients, Ignoring The Needs Of The State’s Most Vulnerable Children

By  | 

drug testingThe Republican-led legislature in Indiana continues its assault on the most vulnerable citizens of its state with a proposed plan to drug test Hoosier welfare recipients. Once again following the lead of other conservative politicians, Indiana would join seven other states imposing drug testing on those who request government assistance. Of course, the state representatives pushing for the potentially costly tests completely ignore that the people who will be hurt most by this measure are the children of recipients kicked off the rolls, who have no control over their parents’ drug use.

House Bill 1483, which passed the Indiana House 78-17 Monday and moves on to the State Senate, calls for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to take a written test, used nationally to predict drug use. Those who have a “high propensity for drug use” would be entered into a pool for possible random drug tests.

If the recipient passes the test, they continue to receive their benefits as normal. If they fail the first drug test, they would continue to receive assistance, but would required to enter a treatment program at their own cost. The program could be anything from a church-sponsored group to an in-treatment facility. Of course, there’s nothing explaining how recipients will pay for treatment, especially since they might lose their jobs if treatment interrupts their work schedule. If the recipient doesn’t complete a program and pass subsequent drug tests, they would have their benefits suspended.

So here’s my problem with these proposals: What exactly happens to the children of those who fail drug tests and lose benefits? What about the families who now won’t apply for the aid they need because they’re afraid of drug testing, or don’t want to jump through those hoops to receive aid? What does a parent do if they have to choose between paying for their mandated treatment program or paying for food, clothing or shelter for their children?

I have firsthand experience dealing with a parent who probably doesn’t deserve to be propped up by government assistance. It can be frustrating to watch this person exploit the generosity of others or game the system. It drives me crazy. But I am thankful for every bit of assistance this person receives, because it helps care for the child in this family. Every dollar is one more that might get to this innocent little one’s food or clothing.

I’ve also seen what happens when the hoops put up for government aid get to be too much and this family loses assistance. This child no longer has dependable care, but instead stays with random friends or intermittent romantic partners. They don’t have medical care, so they struggle through illness until it gets so serious that they end up in the emergency room.

I’ve been in the exact position that my state is trying to navigate. And I’m not going to pretend that it’s a simple decision. But in the end, I have to consider that there is a child in need, a child who deserves support. It would be great to pretend that all of the children in these situations are going to be collected by the Department of Children’s Services and make their way into loving homes. If you’ve ever dealt with CPS, you know that the chances of this actually happening are slim.

I’m not suggesting that those using welfare to support their drug habit should automatically be supported by the state out of the goodness of our hearts. I am saying that there are other people we need to consider in these situations. There are children who will be the most hurt and the least able to get help.

We don’t drug test everyone receiving government money. We don’t drug test teachers and police officers and politicians. This is not some routine measure that every citizen has to pass, that welfare recipients have been somehow sliding around. Drug testing anyone receiving aid has proven costly in other states. But more than that, it has the potential to hurt children more than anyone else. Perhaps the “family values” politicians in Indiana could start thinking about the kids of our state instead of their conservative credentials.