Legislative Win/Win Is Going To Be A Loss

I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a State Legislator. The job seems to be, not only to create and amend laws for some legal justification (redefining what plagiarism means in an Internet, copy-paste world) but also to respond to the needs of your constituents and the current political climate. Recently, belt tightening is the rule. Legislators are scrambling to be seen a fiscally responsible and are hunting to make political points by way of creative laws that put a few bucks in the State coffers.

Along comes Missouri and here’s a great idea: Drug test welfare recipients; if they test positive, eliminate their benefits. From a legislator’s point of view, the proposed law has a couple of key advantages.

The first is the appearance of being strict on crime and criminals by not allowing those with an illegal addiction to get welfare benefits. The other, related advantage is that by reducing the welfare rolls tax money is saved for other things. It’s little wonder that the idea would be attractive – at least until someone takes a closer look.

One of the purposes of welfare is to reduce human and family suffering. By not providing benefits, families will be left to fend for themselves. If they are using drugs as well, it seems a situation that cannot end well. Either the children will suffer, the parent will turn to crime as an alternative, or more likely, some combination.

The unintended consequences might very well be increased costs because of emergency services for child welfare and more law enforcement/courts/prison. All of these are more expensive than just supplementing the income of an intact family. The “out” is if we can make ourselves imagine that those taking drugs are failed people – and not just temporarily failing, but permanently worth casting aside.

Is there a middle ground? Keep the testing and give, at least, mandatory treatment. Something less than cutting benefits for an entire year with a positive test. That, at least, makes sense.

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