Georgia Governor Nathan Deal yesterday signed a bill to require “welfare” recipients to pass drug tests before receiving benefits.

I put “welfare” in quotes because few people seem to know what that even is.

We’re talking about the federal program Temporary Assistant Assistance for Needy Families, which “was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act instituted under President Bill Clinton in 1996. The Act provides temporary financial assistance while aiming to get people off of that assistance, primarily through employment. There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits within one’s lifetime.” That’s from Wikipedia, which seems to have as succinct an explanation of the program as anybody.

Coincidentally, following remarks by a Democratic consultant about Ann Romney, we’ve been having a public debate about counting motherhood as work.

Both political parties have claimed that being a mother qualifies as work, but both have furthered policies that say it doesn’t. The whole presumption of the “welfare to work” movement embodied in that 1996 act is that stay-at-home single moms (the vast majority of TANF beneficiaries are single mothers and their children) are not in fact working.

Ezra Klein has a great post about this at the Washington Post. As recently as January, Mitt Romney said that stay-at-home moms “need to learn the dignity of work.”

More on that:

So what Mitt Romney was saying, in other words, was that he believes poor mothers should go out and get jobs rather than to stay home with their children. He believes that going out and getting a job gives mothers — and everyone else — “the dignity of work.” And so, finally, he believes that staying home and taking care of children is not “work,” and does not fulfill a “work requirement,” and does not give poor mothers “the dignity of work.” And he believes all of this strongly enough that, as governor of Massachusetts, he signed those beliefs into law.

On its own, there’s nothing particularly interesting about this admission. It’s more or less a position that both parties have shared since the 1996 welfare reform bill. But this week, Washington was gripped by an inane microscandal over a tweet by CNN contributor and Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen, who said Ann Romney had never worked “a day in her life.” The Romney campaign, hoping to make up its deficit among women voters, jumped on the comment. “I happen to believe that all moms are working moms,” said Romney.

It turns out he doesn’t. If you’re a poor mother in Massachusetts and you go to sign up for TANF, you’ll see you need to fulfill a “work requirement.” And you cannot fulfill it by being “a mom.” And that’s because of policy that Romney signed into law in Massachusetts, and Bill Clinton signed into law nationally.

So back to Georgia.

Imagine that you’re a suddenly single mom with a kid or several and you’ve suddenly been abandoned by a husband or partner who has been paying the bills. Or you’ve been living with a parent who was supporting you and your kids through retirement and Social Security benefits — but now that parent has died and there’s no money coming in. Or that family-related stress — abuse, threats, bankruptcy — have forced you suddenly to move and you’ve had to shell out a security deposit and a couple of months of rent. You’re broke and your kids need clothes, school supplies, even decent food. That’s what TANF is intended for.

I’m sure there’s abuse of the program, but there are plenty of mothers that fall into those categories.

But you smoked a joint a few weeks ago. You’re now ineligible for TANF for a month — and that means your kids’ needs aren’t going to be met either.

And of course there will be some false positives too.

Meanwhile, more than 50% of Americans now think that marijuana should be legalized.

And I haven’t even gotten into the whole issue of the slippery slope, which the Savannah Morning News editorializes about today. The creeping use of drug tests into American life strikes me as one of the most fundamental abridgments of individual freedom.

This is bad public policy all the way around. I hope the courts strike it down as they should.

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One Response to The hypocrisy of Georgia drug testing requirement for “welfare”

  1. Michelle says:

    Many thanks to Bill Dawers for this thoughtful article.

    Perhaps Georgia should take a closer look at what has transpired in neighboring Florida with a similar program? Will the Governor’s brother run the drug testing company, as was the case in Florida? Yep, it’s a game designed to line the pockets of the rich and well-connected while scapegoating the poor.

    As Mark Twain once said, History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does sometimes rhyme. Following the logic that supports this bill, it would only make sense that we drug test all the kiddos who receive HOPE scholarships, too. And yet, no one seems to be supporting that idea.

    If we Georgians are fierce defenders of individual rights (there are others besides the right to bear arms, friends), where’s the reasonable cause requirement in this bill to trigger a search of one’s precious bodily fluids?